The qualitative research route

Ryan Von Ess
Jun 11 · 4 min read

A unique approach to usability testing

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When solving a problem, there are always two paths you can travel down. The first is the tried and tested path that has proven itself time and time again, with the deeply etched footprints of those who have walked it before you to guide you along the way — the path that an industry has refined, mapped and measured that has proven itself to be an effective way to get from point A to point B.

And then then there’s the trail you blaze. It hides pitfalls, dead ends and may never offer up a peak to climb where you can survey your surroundings and regain your bearings. But there are treasures along this path — it’s yet to be mined of the hidden gems of insight that only offer themselves up to the boldest of travellers. If you’re coming to us for a solution, it’s a path you’re going to get very familiar with.

But naturally, some clients are reluctant to saddle up and traverse this unknown wilderness. They see the route their competitors have taken and say, ‘but won’t that get us where we need to go?’ It’s a situation we face time and time again. At TouchFoundry, we design products through multiple iterations that are constantly updated by user research and testing, but that often takes us into new and unexplored places — places that clients can be a little wary to travel to.

That’s the situation we’ve faced when iterating on the mobile app. Our initial build was well received, but as we began to iterate for further updates, it became clear that we needed a better understanding of the users in order to create the polished product we were looking for. If you know our work, you know that we don’t pen down a design until we’ve got the data to back up every design decision, but the beaten track seemed like the least likely place to find those insights. Historically, one would travel down the familiar road of quantitative research to collect this data — but that had been done and applied already. We needed a different approach. has a number of competitors vying for dominance of the online vehicle market and we knew that if their updated app was going to rise above the rest, we’d have to take the road less travelled by talking to their customers and not just looking at what their competitors were doing. That’s why we opted for the less explored realm of qualitative research. The insights that qualitative data could provide promised a fresh new take on usability for the app that would give their competitors a run for their money. It took a little convincing — but soon enough, the team joined us on our journey down the road less travelled.

Marking our route

Let’s not get carried away — just because we were venturing into uncharted territory doesn’t mean we didn’t have a clear goal in sight, in fact, making sure your objectives are clear is never more important than when you’re traversing a new landscape. Our sights were set on making the app’s usability the best in class, and identifying what functions users were craving in their vehicle purchasing applications. This journey would double as competitor research, as it was through the qualitative lens that we could understand where competitors were failing their users.

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The journey

We used a degree of caution when starting our journey, as any wise traveller does. We routed our path in the well explored world of quantitative research by structuring our usability testing in a quantitative format. We let users try out competitor platforms function by function, and had them rate them from 1 to 3. 1 being negative, 2 being neutral and 3 being positive. Although we were quantifying the experience in numbers, we were ultimately getting a qualitative result, giving a unique insight into the users experience with the platforms.

But numbers alone weren’t going to get us where we needed to go, and so we emphasized the need for our testers to comment on their experiences so that even our qualitative data had a quantitative grounding.

The results were then interpreted in a qualitative report — we didn’t want to show our client a bunch of numbers, graphs and charts, we wanted to show them how their users were feeling and thinking when they used competitor platforms.

Our haul

Looking back at the journeys we’ve taken with our clients, taking the road less travelled always leads to the same pot of gold — unique insights that familiar routes simply cannot provide. When we venture out on these expeditions, our clients arrive back home with an understanding of their users that can make a truly meaningful impact on future product development. It’s safe to say that exploring the user landscape with was no different, and the features we went on to develop for their app still have these very insights at their cores now that they’ve been brought to life. All it took was a leap of faith — to brave the unknown.


Digital innovation through research, design, automation and development

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