Somebody recently told me I don’t pay enough attention to qualitative UX Research and tend to stress quantitative issues too much. I get that a lot from quals. A couple weeks ago, somebody else told me I am too focused on users when dealing with technical issues. I get that a lot, too, from quants.

Quants and quals are nicknames I use for people who fall for that modern fallacy of the so-called “two cultures” or “two minds“, according to which there are two distinct, non-communicating, mutually incompatible and mutually hostile cultures and ways of perceiving the world, namely the qualitative, aesthetic, non-verbal, intuitive, humanistic, right-brained and the quantitative, objective, verbal, deductive, logical-scientific, left-brained.

Allow me to use a very technical word here: bullshit.

But, one may say, we do have two differently able brain hemispheres? Yes we do. We do have two systems of perceiving the world guiding our actions? Yes we do.

And the two systems live and work together inside our head, even if in certain instances (hurry or danger, typically) one of the two takes precedence.

We also happen to have two eyes, one of which is dominant, but you wouldn’t give up 3D vision for dominant-eye-only monocular vision, would you?

But this is only my opinion, of course, and if you are absolutely positive about the dominance of one side of your brain in your life, allow me to suggest a cheap, quick and highly secure way to self-host your personal cloud files.

People who, with varying degrees of awareness, choose to stereotype themselves into quants or quals just take the easy, culturally acceptable way of labelling the world into a simple life. This stereotyping starts early in life, and is no different from gender-based stereotyping (it actually builds on it).

So the Quant will mostly:

  • be male or with “typically male” traits (e.g. a “manly” woman)
  • have an IT, Math, Engineering or “hard science” background
  • be a “things” person, a tinkerer uneasy in social situations or plain socially-challenged
  • be unempathic

On the other hand, the Qual will mostly:

  • be a female or with “typically female” traits
  • have a humanities or social “science” background
  • be a “people” person
  • be empathic

(For more details, you can give a look to my Deep DISC slides.)

One important step towards awareness and self-improvement, though, is to recognise that we are free to redefine the choices we made when we chose conformity over our personal preference. Sometimes it can be easy, sometimes it can be harder, but as adults we no longer need to be pleasing kids.

In other words, we can simply teach ourselves to be a quant or a qual or any mix of the two whenever we need or feel like.

And now let’s come to UX Research: this is a field where single-side brains, whether right or left, should on no account be allowed.

Why? Because people (the subject of UXR) are difficult to deal with:

  • people are often unaware of the motivations behind their actions
  • people often give the answer they think is expected of them
  • people tend simply to lie for the most different reasons
  • people  (see my WAN chart) ask for something while wanting something else and needing something else entirely.

It is obvious to me that a researcher can successfully deal with people only if he can compare their expressed requirements with something who can help him tell requests from desires from needs. This term of comparison is behavioural data (or navigational data in Web environments). Data are useful because they allow us to immediately tell  the difference between:

  • what people say they do
  • what people actually do

and on top of that data can offer the trained eye significant insights.

If you ask me, serious UX research cannot stand unless it uses both people and data, unless it is qualitative and quantitative.

It’s about time we stopped this ridiculous apartheid of the mind. if we have two brains, it’s because both are needed to make sense of reality. Sure, it’s simpler and more comfortable to stereotype ourselves into quals (“data are so cold”) or quants (“people are so fuzzy”), it’s reassuring to us and to our bosses. But the ever-increasing complexity of our world no longer warrants loopholes such as this. We must stand up to reality with both our selves, the preferred one as well as the underdog.

The world is not for the faint of heart; neither it is for the feeble of mind.

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