Thousands of people arrive at this blog wanting to know what is the difference between qualitative and quantitative research. Qualitative versus quantitative research is by far the most popular post on this blog. In that first post, I explained why sample size doesn’t matter in qualitative research. In this post, I explain why qualitative research is generally a better approach for design research.
Notice how the qualitative process is iterative with the going back and forth from data to sense-making or developing theory. It is flexible and can change direction easily.
Qualitative design process
And the quantitative design process is very linear, and does not include an iterative component:
If your design process involves an iterative prototyping phase, for example, then qualitative research is likely the best approach for you. Notice also that qualitative research necessarily involves the researcher putting herself in the shoes of the user. Quantitative research does NOT require the researcher to see through the eyes of the user.
Designers often want to empathize with their users. They want to understand their experiences and pain points. They want to know what their users are thinking. This is why qualitative research is often better suited to design research.
See also this embedded slideshow from my research design class. This should give you the basic differences between the two.