Embracing Multi-Screen Qualitative Research

Betsy Leichliter
Marketing Insights e-newsletter
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Key Takeaways
  • Writing a concise list of research objectives is a great way to begin any qualitative design process.
  • Whichever way you design your project, it is important to be clear to participants – during recruiting and throughout the project.
  • The success of qualitative research continues to depend heavily on the human interactions that it enables.

Now that qualitative pioneers have a few years of experience under their belts doing research with mobile devices, a consensus seems to be emerging: Smartphones can generate rich photo, video and voice responses, but getting group interaction or rich written input from participants while they're using small screen devices with tiny keypads can be challenging.

This is a key reason why qualitative specialists and platform/tool providers have been busy creating multi-screen research designs and tech solutions that give participants more flexibility than ever to use their smartphones, tablets, computers and/or smart TVs to engage in qualitative research. Multi-screen approaches are making it possible for people to participate in qualitative activities (such as photo-documenting their shopping trips, co-creating new product concepts, journaling their personal reflections, and more) using the communications tools they naturally gravitate to in their everyday lives.

However, designing, conducting, and interpreting multi-screen qualitative projects can seem a bit daunting initially (a colleague once described her first multi-screen project as, "trying to hug an octopus!"). To ease the anxiety that can come along with it, here are a few tips to consider if you are eager to get a grip on multi-screen qualitative research.

Don't just draft scriptsdesign experiences. Writing a concise list of research objectives is a great way to begin any qualitative design process. But with multi-screen projects, writing a classic “script” or “guide” that you tweak and then “upload” to a platform can lead to disappointing or dysfunctional results, once you see how those activities look and feel on different screen sizes or browsers.

Instead, consider creating multi-screen research experiences in a hands-on way within the online or mobile platform or tool environments that participants will actually use. One way to begin this process is to create a rough, visual pathway of what the participants' research experience will involve (for example: What will they be asked to think about and do as the project unfolds? How will they interact with the researchers or other participants?). This type of visual itinerary can also serve as an orientation or progress-tracking tool for participants throughout the life of a project.

Start small. Many interface designers believe that handhelds or other small mobile devices will dominate the global digital landscape of the future, so they often tackle multi-screen designs by focusing first on the smallest screens that users will use. Then they adapt those designs as appropriate for tablets, computers, smart TVs or other large formats. Thinking this way can help keep the focus on simple, efficient solutions when designing multi-screen qualitative research.

Similarly, we have found that for some multi-screen projects, it works very well to start participants out using only their familiar small-screen mobile devices (for example, to capture their environments, shopping habits, or other behavior) before migrating them onto a larger-screen research platform for more in-depth activities or group interaction.  

Make choices clear. For “free choice” multi-screen projects, participants need the ability to do all required activities using whatever type of device they have available (subject to recruiting specifications). For other multi-screen projects, the researchers can guide participants to use a smartphone, computer, or other devices (subject to screening specs) that will work best for specific activities.

Whichever way you design your project, it is important to be clear to participantsduring recruiting and throughout the projectabout what choices they do or do not have.

Let clear human connections be the "glue" that holds multi-screen qualitative together.

As communications options continue to expand, the success of qualitative research continues to depend heavily on the human interactions that it enables – among participants, between participants and researchers, or both. The more choices participants have about how to communicate during qualitative research, the more important it becomes for them to know that they are connected to dedicated, interested humans who they can count on and trust. So as you design your multi-screen projects, look for opportunities for the moderator(s) to show how they can fulfill these needs.​

 
 

Author Bio:

 
Betsy Leichliter
Betsy Leichliter is a member of the Qualitative Research Consultants Association (QRCA). Leichliter Associates provides innovative qualitative and interactive research for new products, services, environments, and experiences, based on the belief that Open Minds Open Minds®.
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