At Synthetic users we are blurring the lines between qualitative and quantitative research, presenting an exciting new avenue for data gathering and interpretation. Here's how we are going about this transformative approach, and what it means for the future of user experience and market research but more importantly to the future of business.
The equivalence of effort: Qualitative vs. Quantitative
Traditionally, qualitative research, characterized by interviews, focus groups, and case studies, has been viewed as labor-intensive and time-consuming. On the other hand, quantitative research, known for surveys, questionnaires, and numerical data, was seen as more scalable but sometimes lacking in depth.
The distinctions between qualitative and quantitative research were well defined by Creswell, in "Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches." He outlined how qualitative methods probe deep into human behavior, emotions, and motivations, while quantitative methodologies derive generalizable insights via statistical measures.
With Synthetic Users, this differentiation starts to blur. Running 10 interviews to gauge desirability or deploying 5,000 surveys can now demand roughly the same amount of effort.
Finding the sweet spot: the intersection of qual and quant
As we transition from strictly qualitative to more quantitative data sets, there lies an ideal intersection — a sweet spot where the depth of qualitative insights meets the breadth of quantitative data.
This point provides a balance, allowing researchers to obtain rich, in-depth insights while also leveraging the robustness of large-scale data. This equilibrium means that clients and stakeholders can then hone in on synthesized reports, gaining the benefits of both research types.
Synthetic Users allow for Nielsen's qualitative insights (even though Nielsen is not a fan of Synthetic Users) to coalesce with quantitative scalability. This merger leads to what Nielsen and Norman termed "triangulation", a comprehensive understanding of user needs and behaviors by employing multiple methods.
Nassim Taleb's"The Black Swan", makes sense here: "Having more data does not necessarily make you more knowledgeable, but it does make you more confident." The blend of qual and quant methodologies powered by Synthetic Users should, ideally, offer both — insight and confidence.
Data pioneer John W. Tukey, once remarked, "The combination of some data and an aching desire for an answer does not ensure that a reasonable answer can be extracted from a given body of data." This emphasizes the importance of integrating both qualitative and quantitative methodologies. By doing so, powered by Synthetic Users, researchers achieve a more holistic and reliable understanding, ensuring both insight and confidence.
Understanding the mix: getting the best of both worlds
Think of Synthetic Users as tools that help us see things more clearly in a world where we humans give too much importance to a single story or experience, even if it's not common. Daniel Kahneman talked about this in his book "Thinking, Fast and Slow". Robert Cialdini did the same in "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion," when he introduced the concept of scarcity where people attribute more value to opportunities when they are perceived as scarce.
By combining detailed stories (qualitative data) with numbers (quantitative data), researchers and anyone within the business can get a clearer, less biased picture. That is part of our mission, to clarify in order to potentiate better decision making.
When research involves humans, whether as subjects or as researchers, we are aware biases do emerge. Synthetic Users is able to mitigate the following:
Interaction biases are removed: In qualitative research, the very interaction between the researcher and the participant can introduce biases. For instance, a participant might provide answers they believe the researcher wants to hear (social desirability bias).
Observer-expectancy effect is neutralized: Sometimes, a researcher's expectations can subtly influence participants' behavior, leading to outcomes that align with the researcher's beliefs.
Sampling bias is adjusted by Synthetic Users to offer more diversity by default: Even the process of selecting participants can introduce bias. If a sample isn't representative of the broader population, the conclusions might be skewed.
Synthetic Users can sometimes overemphasize predefined user pains and goals. We're working to counteract this through dynamic interviews, where the emphasis is on study objectives over observed user pain points.
Synthetic Users are trained on vast amounts of data, and they generate outputs based on patterns in that data. If the training data has certain prevalent biases or if the questions posed to the model lead it in a particular direction, the model might produce outputs that appear biased or that emphasize certain patterns over others. We see this as a feature, not a bug — when we are delivering organic / synthetic parity.
Still, in order to mitigate this last bias a lot is being done.
Diverse Data: We ensure the training data of the models we use is diverse and well-representative in order to produce more balanced outputs.
Objective Questioning: we design prompts that offer up neutrality and don't necessarily lean towards any particular outcome.
Regular Evaluation: we periodically evaluate the performance and outputs of the model to check for any unintended patterns or biases.
So no, Synthetic Users don't have human-like biases, their outputs can still reflect biases present in their training data or in the way they're used. Any tool, regardless of how advanced, needs regular assessment and refinement to ensure it meets its intended purpose without introducing unintended biases.
A new more efficient world with better products and businesses
When deploying synthetic users in user experience and market research, combining the depth of qualitative insights with the breadth of quantitative data, we can anticipate a myriad of potential discoveries and advancements:
Richer User Profiles: We already notice these. By amalgamating vast datasets with detailed user experiences, Synthetic Users generate comprehensive user profiles that capture both broad behavioral trends and individual nuances. You will notice they are far richer than most outputs from organic research.
Predictive Insights: The union of qualitative and quantitative methods helps predict future user behaviors, preferences, and needs more accurately, facilitating proactive adjustments in product design or market strategy. This is what we are most excited about at Synthetic Users.
Refined User Journeys: With Synthetic Users mimicking potential real-world users, businesses can chart out intricate user journeys, identifying potential touchpoints, challenges, and opportunities for enhanced engagement. This is the area that needs more work on our part.
Hybrid Research Methods: We believe this blend might lead to the evolution of new research methodologies that harness the strengths of both qualitative and quantitative approaches, optimizing the research process.
Diverse Perspectives: Synthetic users, trained on a vast array of data, can simulate a broader range of user perspectives than might be feasible with traditional research. This will inevitably lead to products and services that are more inclusive and accessible.
Bridging Cultural Gaps: With access to global data, Synthetic Users can offer insights into cultural nuances, preferences, and behaviors, aiding businesses in tailoring their offerings for different geographies or demographics.
Speedier Iteration: The capability of synthetic users to rapidly process vast amounts of data and provide feedback means businesses can iterate designs, campaigns, or strategies faster, responding more agilely to market demands.
Deeper Emotional Understanding: While synthetic users don't possess emotions, their ability to analyze vast amounts of qualitative data can help businesses gain deeper insights into the emotional drivers behind user behaviors.
More than just skincare:
Scenario: A company selling skincare products receives thousands of online reviews monthly.
Action: Synthetic Users are trained with thousands of organic online reviews.
Result: The company finds that words like "confidence," "disappointment," or "relief" are frequently used. Synthetic Users indicate that they aren't just looking for skincare but for a boost in self-esteem. Products can then be improved with this emotional need in mind.
Airlines dealing with anxiety:
Scenario: An airline wants to improve its in-flight experience.
Action: Synthetic Users are created with real passenger survey data.
Result: Synthetic Users quickly reveal frequently mentioning feeling "anxious" about tight connections. As a response, they suggest that the airline introduces more reassuring notifications about connecting flights.
Evolving Ethical Considerations: As we deepen our use of Synthetic Users, there will be new discoveries in the realm of ethics, privacy, and data usage. How Synthetic Users are deployed, the data they access, and the insights they generate will necessitate ongoing ethical discussions and guidelines.
Using Synthetic Users in user experience and market research means we can combine deep, personal insights with big data. Join us as we explore this new approach. The sweet spot between qualitative and quantitative may yield new concepts that we are yet to discover.
We find it essential to balance both aspects and watch out for any issues. Doing this right will unlock the real benefits.