What’s the difference between a telescope and a set of binoculars? Twice the “scopes,” sure; but also more than 5 times the field of vision, much-enhanced depth perception, and a testament to the usefulness of looking at things through two different lenses.

In the same way, zooming in on usability with the dual lenses of qualitative and quantitative feedback returns a much broader, more solidly contextualized picture than either would alone.

 

Qualitative tells stories

At the very core of user experience is the subjective and emotional response of the individual user – in short, the way a website makes visitors feel. These feelings run the gauntlet from delighted, impressed, or hooked to confused, frustrated, and angry. All these welling emotions, and the ones in between, have one thing in common: they won’t show up in the numbers.

Your data may tell you which pages people visited, and how long they stayed, and where they came from and where they went to, but the story itself is missing – the feelings aren’t there. Did that user stay on your site because their interest was captured by a great piece of content, or because they were fruitlessly searching for an “About” section? When that visitor clicked to a new page, did they move a step closer to their objective or had they merely mistook the page for something else? And if so, what were the cues that led them to that wrong turn?

Listening to a user narrate their journey, hearing their reactions as they navigate the ins and outs of a site, fills in those blanks. The ups and downs, the irritations and confusions, the aha moments, the satisfaction of a task completed, all come together to tell a story, and the best and worst things about your website stand out like warm bodies through infrared goggles. Qualitative feedback tells the “why” at a level that doesn’t otherwise come out.


More: See a user testing example


 

Quantitative gives context

The second lens on a set of binoculars lets the viewer gauge depth by taking advantage of parallax, allowing the mind to compare and reconcile two overlapping but distinct images to understand the object at hand in 3-D.

Similarly, quantitative feedback allows you to understand your site’s usability in the context of its virtual surroundings. Unlike qualitative information, it can be used to make easy, reliable comparisons – usability tools like SUS (the System Usability Scale) and the SEQ (Single-Ease Question) that measure and quantify usability can map the individual’s user experience, chart usability increases and decreases over time, and show how your website performs compared to others.

This last function is perhaps the most important, because your site does not operate in a vacuum; it exists within a diverse online world that offers stiff competition and supplies potential visitors with endless expectations, habits, and pre-suppositions. Seeing where you rank in that world breaks open a whole new level of self-awareness and points you in the right direction as you make UX improvements.

 

Put ‘em together and what have you got?

 

Photograph of binocular lenses from front, reflecting 2 views of an aircraft carrier

 

Delving into the individual stories of users enormously increases the value of your research. Your users aren’t just data points; each one is the author of a unique journey through your site, and exploring those journeys broadens your view by many multiples. Placing your usability into context with empirically robust quantification and comparison tools deepens your understanding. Together, they render a much-enhanced, complete picture in all its detail.