Qualitative research and the UX overlap
Liz Norman caught up with Michael Thompson (Head of UX at MTM) to discuss his move from qualitative research to UX research and explores how others can transition from one to the other.
Michael’s background is in social, commercial, and qualitative research. He recently joined MTM to support its UX team. His clients are interesting as we tend to assume that UX is largely about our utilisation of websites, when in fact it is increasingly used more broadly that that. They are in media and entertainment, so his work involves monitoring television consumption or different cinematic experiences.
What interested you in this new role?
From a media perspective, UX covers video/streaming platforms and broadcasters with a focus on user experience interfaces. An opportunity to work in those areas sparked Michael’s interest, and given MTM’s reputation, it was a no brainer.
UX presents opportunities to move out into different sectors, specifically tech-related spaces (fintech, food tech etc.), and therefore provides a platform to take your expertise into other markets and sectors.
What sort of studies do all those areas look at/want to do?
There’s more to it than that. UX is about the discovery of the user experience, their needs, and building an understanding of those foundational insights.
It’s also about asking strategic questions, like what should the role of a website or app be, what should it do for the business and consumer, what does the consumer need when using them, how should the brand be expressed through content, and how do you make the experience enjoyable for customers.
Of course, the granular detail of usability and what that looks like is still very important.
Who are the clients in this space?
There’s an evolution taking place across UX. What the insight client looks like will depend on the level of maturity of that business.
In some cases, he is dealing with the traditional type of client, Heads of Insight or Marketing, but many companies are now investing heavily in UX and have separate UX teams that he reports into.
For example, if you are working with a big tech company which is very established, you will have a separate team of UX researchers. The role is likely to sit within the product team, surrounded by designers, data analysts and so on, who will work on the product/development.
That can be quite isolating as you’re the only researcher, but you get to be much closer to the product and its development.
In businesses that are less mature from a tech perspective, you would sit in the market research team.
How does your work differ from what you did as a qual researcher?
All the fundamentals of qualitative research are the same: how you design a project; interview; the analysis; reporting, etc.
People looking to make the transition would need to think about the methodological differences. UX research looks at consumer behaviour and interaction with an interface, rather than opinions. It can be a big transition for some, but much more interesting work. There are several different techniques to consider, too: what is a heuristic evaluation, a contextual enquiry, etc. Those are far more important in a UX role.
Another big difference is the rhythms of work. You’re not working towards a glossy PowerPoint at the end as you would in market research. There is also less focus on group work (which reflects the way technology has impacted this area).
UX is a more collaborative way of working and you’ll work at speed to get insights fast.
How would a qualitative researcher develop the right skills for a UX role?
Firstly, there are more opportunities in UX than ever before. Since Covid there has been a huge appetite to attract talent.
The talent pool used to be smaller. Big tech companies would only look at people with certain qualifications/degrees. The profession is now far more welcoming to people who possess extra skills.
If you have the fundamental skills of a qualitative researcher, it is easier to move to UX but you need to demonstrate a real interest in the area.
There are a lot of great books and discussions, around what the job looks like and what UX researchers do. If working in qualitative research, try and position yourself to get on the more tech-led projects where you can.
In addition, there is a lot of online training and London-based organisations that offer training, but these can be quite pricey, yet it’s important that you invest in yourself.
In the future, UX research, creative development and brand strategy will be integral to the role of a qualitative researcher, so it will be easier to make that transition.
How do you see UX evolving in the future?
“Working in UX and UX research really gives you an opportunity to work with businesses and trends that shape everyday life – working with META and Google, understanding what they are up to and the technologies they are using that will affect all of us.”
UX is only going to grow. Technology is becoming more and more important to businesses, with a huge focus on the metaverse and web3.
Businesses need to understand what these elements mean to the organisation and from a commercial perspective. UX research is at the forefront of that and will give organisations an advantage against competitors.
Click here to watch the full interview.