What professional sports can teach us about sound UX research 

The need for both qualitative vs quantitative research

If you’re like many people, you follow a sports team or two. Maybe you’re in a fantasy league.

But it’s highly likely you don’t just look at the stats and box scores. You follow your favorite players on Twitter and Instagram and tune into their sports radio interviews. 

For an annoyingly obvious example: let’s look at Tom Brady. We–fans and detractors alike– know his number of rings, Deflategate game suspensions, age, his improbable stats; the salary on, and length of, his contract. We know the amount of the broadcast deal he was offered, whenever he decides to finally, permanently hang up his helmet. In other words, we know his hard numbers. 

But the numbers only tell one side of the story. We’ve read the articles about his kooky diet and the selling of any of his numerous homes. The rumors why he swapped teams. Maybe we follow his wife on Instagram, to discern clues about his home life (are they still arguing?) and mental state before another big game or rumor of retirement.

Whether you’re a fan of his team or the one he’s playing against, you want to know how he’s performing, thinking and behaving. Again, the numbers only quantify one side of things: what he does on the field. What he thinks affects that.

This balance of what one does and what one thinks is what user experience (UX) researchers, product designers or marketers get obsessive about, like rabid sports fans do. 

User experience (UX) research helps us to understand the wants, needs, and behaviors of our target users.

(For a football team’s coaching staff and players, admittedly it’s the opposite: they want to see what Brady does so they can give him a hard time. But you’re an intelligent person and you understand the greater metaphor here.) 

User insights can help companies avoid unnecessary development and resource deployment,  and laborious decision-making. There are various UX research methods to identify difficulties, trends, and potential opportunities that will improve customer experience. 

Qualitative vs Quantitative Research

Research types are either qualitative or quantitative, with their own strengths and weaknesses.

Quantitative research studies involve collecting and analyzing numerical data. This makes it ideal when you want to understand concepts, experiences, or ideas. It’s why sports fans know yards, passes, touchdowns and interceptions.

Qualitative research is people-oriented and focuses on the “why” of user behaviors and opinions. This is better when you want to confirm or test a hypothesis or theory systematically. And it’s why people pay attention to the off-field factors that affect Brady.

Quantitative research: left-brain logic

Quantitative research compiles numerical data to test causal relationships among variables, recognize patterns, make predictions and generalize findings. It is focused on concrete and statistical correlations: the what and how of a particular phenomenon or behavior. Metrics include success and error rates, time spent on tasks and number-based responses. Artificial intelligence or machine learning can even be used to collect and analyze numerical data. But it cannot provide the bigger picture or crucial context behind the numerical results. 

Quantitative research methods include testing or experimentation, surveys, questionnaires, database reports and analytics.

  • Experiments/AB testing: In this method, two or more variables are shown to users randomly. Statistical analysis determines which variable performs better and what is needed to achieve a goal.
  • Questionnaires: An inexpensive method to conduct quantitative research, questions are specific and use numerical answers to produce data for later analysis.
  • Surveys: Surveys collect information, like numerical ratings, about the needs and experiences of customers.
  • Database Reports: These can capture demographics, website visits, transactions, and other numerical data.
  • Analytics: Using statistical analysis software is one way to analyze quantitative data. 

Qualitative research: right-brain feeling

Qualitative research uses non-numerical data and centers on people and the reasons behind their opinions and behaviors. Interviews, field studies, and even focus group discussions are used to collect data and assess motives through direct observation and close examination. The aim is to understand the customer’s perspective, response and behaviors, and use this information to generate ideas that can deliver better online experiences. 

Qualitative research creates potential data points that social scientists and analysts can use to analyze and predict behavior. However, it cannot cover all user experiences, and it requires many interviews and focus group discussions to cover every demographic. Common methods include:

  • Interviews: Asking particular customers and users questions that explain and explore their actions and opinions. The questions are often open-ended, to better gain in-depth and informative answers.
  • Focus groups: Consumers of the target audience’s demographic are asked the same questions about their ideas and perceptions regarding a brand, service, or idea.
  • Documents: Researchers can interpret transaction records and official reports to give voice and reason around an assessment topic.
  • Personal accounts or papers: Letters, reviews, photographs, and video recordings can help researchers understand an audience’s interests and motives.
  • Cultural records: Can provide context to the relationship between the variables and subjects.
  • Direct observation: Can provide data on how users and customers respond and behave in certain situations.

Combining Qualitative and Quantitative Research

Combining qualitative and quantitative research significantly improves the evaluation and analysis of data. It ensures that the limitations of one method are covered and balanced by the strength of the other, allowing for a better overall understanding of the user.

This allows organizations to generate process designs and make more confident big-bet decisions that will improve user experiences, creating a solid foundation for companies to work on product and service improvements that consumers find meaningful.

While WEVO doesn’t measure Tom Brady’s, or any NFL quarterback’s chances of making the Super Bowl, It can help your organization get high-volume, high quality insights that make it easier for you to make decisions with greater confidence. Find out how.

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