Chapter 4. Understanding Users: Qualitative Research

The outcome of any design effort must ultimately be judged by how successfully it meets the needs of both the product user and the organization that commissioned it. No matter how skillful and creative the designer, if she does not have clear and detailed knowledge of the users she is designing for, the constraints of the problem, and the business or organizational goals that are driving design activities, she will have little chance of success.

Real insight into these topics can’t be achieved by digging through the piles of numbers that come from a quantitative study like a market survey (though these can be critical for answering other kinds of questions). Rather, this kind of deep knowledge can only be achieved by qualitative research techniques. There are many types of qualitative research, each of which can play an important role in understanding the design landscape of a product. In this chapter, we focus on specific qualitative research techniques that support the design methods described in subsequent chapters. At the end of the chapter, we briefly discuss how quantitative research can, and cannot, be used to help support this effort.

Qualitative versus Quantitative Research

Research is a word that most people associate with science and objectivity. This association isn’t incorrect, but it biases many people towards the notion that the only valid sort of research is the kind that yields the supposed ultimate in objectivity: ...

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