Next up at Nottingham Digital Summit is Dr Sam Howard, who is the Co-Founder and Director of Research at Userfy, a user-testing agency. He spoke about the ways in which we can undercover the "whys" in the data-driven world of "whats". Put simply, "big data" is great, but you need to undertake qualitative research too.

Video: Sam Howard – Uncovering the “Why” in the Data-Driven World of “What”

Slidedeck presentation: Sam Howard – Uncovering the “Why” in the Data-Driven World of “What”

Sam Howard Nottingham Digital Summit

Big Data vs Qualitative Research

Sam stressed that analytics data doesn’t have all the answers – engaging with real customers and people can hold the key to making decisions.

Big data can be viewed as wide and shallow – when you cast the net wide, you can only get surface level data. In contrast, for qualitative research, you can take a smaller sample, but delve much deeper and find out real experiences.

Sam explained that he gained an interest in qualitative research during his Psychology degree at Nottingham University, after which he did a Ph.D. At the time, health technology was an emerging trend, so Sam explained how he did some research with teenagers who had asthma, to assess the use of smart inhalers. At the time, big data had shown that 75% of hospitals admissions for asthma were avoidable, and 90% of deaths were preventable – so with regards to statistics, smart inhalers seemed the obvious solution.

However, Sam asked the teenagers who took part in his research to play a ringtone every time they needed to use their inhaler, for a whole month. Playing this ringtone represented one of the issues/downsides to having to use the smart inhaler all the time – an issue which big data wouldn’t have picked up on.

Big Data Is Poor for Learning Anything New

Rather, big data is based around an existing business model or ideas – to gain new insights, qualitative research is key.

Sam then went on to explain what his company Userfy do. Essentially, they recruit people who fit the demographics of its clients but have never been on the website. They then speak to these people for an hour to ask about their thoughts on the website and identify any issues. From there, they produce a video of the key highlights, which provides invaluable information for the client that they just wouldn’t have gotten through big data.

User Testing Is Not Just About Usability

Whilst usability is one aspect of user testing, it’s so much more than that. Sam explained how a website can result in an insightful conversation with a person, where you can find out their perceptions of the brand, their needs and experiences.

Sam then showed us some insights he found through qualitative research he had undertaken at Userfy:

  • Amazon: People spoken to admit they didn’t like to spend their money on Amazon, and they didn’t appreciate the experience or minimal information required. They preferred the experience of using an independent website, but the barrier was finding these small businesses in the SERPs (search engine results pages). This is good news for small businesses, who just need to improve their organic rankings.
  • Booking Website: Sam tested a redesign of a holiday booking website, and found that users were double-booking trips without even realising. The client hadn’t realised either, but the result of the qualitative research was that users were using the website in a way that they hadn’t anticipated. This would never have been identified had Sam not spoken with people to find out the issues faced.

The Real Value of Finding the “Why”

Sam highlighted several reasons in which figuring out the “why” carried values for businesses:

  • Engaging with users as early as possible can dramatically de-risk a project. Unless you put your product in front of your customers, you’re only making assumptions about how customers will react.
  • Capturing a user’s first impression of a brand, website or product is invaluable. The first minute is critical as this is when people will start to understand who you are as a business – how you word or present things can have a huge impact on this.
  • No designer can see their product through the eyes of the user – a user will have no context or knowledge, so you  will never fully understand what they perceive what’s in front of them (i.e. your product).
  • There are no shortcuts or substitutes for doing user research properly – you have to dedicate the right amount of time and resources to understand the users.

Key Takeaways

  • Whilst big data is good in showing the what, you should never disregard qualitative data too – they should be combined
  • Qualitative data will show you something new, and you can gain in-depth insights into users and customers
  • Usability is just one aspect of user testing
  • There are many benefits in finding out the “why” – you will never understand what the customer see/feels/perceives, without speaking to them.

Check out the other NottmDigital presentations

Search: A New Evolution – Vikas Arora – Nottingham Digital Summit

How to Make Your Content Marketing Cheap, Scalable and Effective – Kirsty Hulse – Nottingham Digital Summit

Speedo Goggles: Looking Through A New Digital Lens – Rachel Starling – Nottingham Digital Summit

Improving Your Digital Marketing Skills – Dr Dave Chaffey – Nottingham Digital Summit

Harnessing Automation To Power Your Online Advertising – Owen Gill – Nottingham Digital Summit

Search in a Screenless World – Barry Adams – Nottingham Digital Summit

The What, Where, How and Why of Personalisation – Ian Coupland – Nottingham Digital Summit

Design Systems: The Visual Language of Your Brand – Julio Taylor – Nottingham Digital Summit

A Fireside Chat with Meaghan from Google – Nottingham Digital Summit

Great Inclusive Design Process: Design with People, Not for People – Gavin Holland – Nottingham Digital Summit

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