Often times, in qualitative research we default our choice of research method to IDI or in-depth interviews. It is relatively safe. We talk to people, we get some ‘deep insights’ from what people say, and we get what to ask our so-called research questions.

In-depth interview with staff

But IDI can only uncover so much. The thing is, people do not always do what they say. And placing our bets in developing products just based on what people say is risky.

So does it mean that it is not a good method? No. But it needs to be complemented by other sources of insights. In our recent research for an SaaS product startup, we used mixed methods to gain insights from our customers, which can be mapped into the following 2×2 matrix:

Being a fly on the wall

Just sitting and observing what people do and how they do things in their natural setting is very powerful. We can observe nuances that are interesting, which our respondents would otherwise not tell us because they think it is too trivial. We can get a sense of how busy they are, how troublesome it is to use a certain solution, how distracting is the environment for them to do focus work, how hard is it to do their work in a small space, etc.

Observation on site

After we have generated concepts and prototypes from the initial insights gathered, we evaluated our assumptions by asking people to try it out. We can see if they can do the task that they need to do with no help. We can learn how they interact with our solution for the first time, which areas that cause confusion, which part that does not come naturally easy for them.

After feature release, we get selected users to try using the product as part of their daily activities. This gives us a lot of other insights beyond what we can get from usability testing. In a prolonged use, users tend to build some learning curve, so some of the tasks that were found to be hard to do for first time users, no longer become big blockers. On the other hand, we get exposure to a lot of corner cases that we did not think of before. Such corner cases and the frequency of their occurrence becomes really important input into the next product iteration.

The case of Aeron Chair

Aeron Chair by Herman Miller was rated poorly during focus group research conducted by the company, because its simple mesh design looked different than what office chairs used to be then. But only through a prolonged experience of using the chair that people realized how great it was in terms of comfort and style.

Aeron Chair by Herman Miller

Choosing mix of methods

Different methods give answers to different set of questions. Be mindful with what you want to discover, and don’t be afraid to experiment and mix different methods to get a better sense of its power.