Charting Human Experience Using Qualitative Data

Thought Leadership

By Dan De Sosa | January 21, 2022
One person qualitatively observing the other person

I’m Dan De Sosa, a Lead Strategist at Apply Digital. My role demands that I understand people’s rational and emotional behavior by analyzing a combination of quantitative and qualitative data as they interact with the digital solutions we build.

Emotions drive people. The way our end users feel is just as important as whether they can meet their functional needs. While quantitative data offers us a broader view based on hard numbers, qualitative data gives us rich, detailed, and emotionally contextual insights that help us understand human behavior and actions on a more holistic level. Whether it's about understanding why someone might pay more for one product over another or prefer a specific type of interaction, we continuously pursue the ‘why’ behind such actions and find ourselves understanding the core of the human experience.

Together, quantitative and qualitative data give us a deeper, more coherent understanding of what our end customers need and want.

Creating a complete view of a customer

The vast majority of industry data captured and analyzed is quantitative in nature. This data is extremely helpful in understanding customer actions but does not provide the full picture from the lens of user experience. To get a more complete view of our customers, we need to interpret the reasons behind these actions.

How do we understand the behaviors of customers through these numbers? How do we use these numbers to improve the capabilities of the digital solutions we build? Quantitative data acts as the catalyst in capturing a statistical trend, and forming a hypothesis. But qualitative data is the key to digging deeper and testing the limits of our hypothesis.

For example, quantitative data collected for one of Apply Digital’s healthcare clients suggested their consumers’ hesitancy to engage with and fully trust healthcare practices. Qualitative research allowed us to dig deeper into the issues, and revealed that healthcare consumers are often concerned about trusting doctors, institutions, or emerging medical sciences. Lack of contextual and relevant information makes it hard for consumers to understand complex scientific topics and make the right healthcare decisions. In response, we ensured that we provided relevant human-centric content across all touchpoints within our project to reinforce informational transparency and directly address such consumer concerns.

Capturing qualitative data through empathy and trust

Capturing qualitative data through customer questionnaires, surveys, and interviews are effective ways in which we understand major customer pain points. But leveraging the real power of qualitative research comes with spending time with our subjects and forming a genuine bond of trust and understanding with them.

Some best practices for qualitative research include:

  • Meeting people in their natural environment versus a boardroom that is out of context and isn’t their comfort zone

  • Recreating a moment or situation where they’re most likely to make contextual decisions

  • Interacting as naturally as possible to ensure conversations are free of constrictions, allowing transparency in testing our hypotheses

While working on building a digital solution for a client to streamline and improve restaurant operations in North America, our UX team conducted on-site research in the kitchens of restaurants to understand the day-to-day requirements and operations of the back of house staff. This effort allowed us to capture non-numeric and contextual qualitative data, helping us define clear goals around the product strategy driven by the complete human experience. But the real significance of this data lies in the way it's harnessed to improve customer experiences through each phase of software development.

Two BOH staff working in a restaurant's kitchen

Harnessing qualitative insights to refine the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC)

Here at Apply Digital, we utilize qualitative observations throughout the software development life cycle, which helps us build digital solutions that provide customer experiences beyond just catering to the customers’ immediate needs.

Within an agile environment, user stories provide human-centric, short, and simple descriptions of product features and problems that bring user goals to life by examining their motivation.

To create such user stories that truly account for the users, we need to know who they are and what they’re thinking, feeling, and doing at different times and places, and incorporate this information within our user stories. Comprehending these user stories allows our development and design teams to focus on the end user and come up with frictionless solutions and user-centric designs.

For example, while working for AGI, we came up with a customer-informed design. We rebuilt their website using an intuitive information architecture based on user stories that included qualitative findings from a customer journey mapping exercise. This allowed us to declutter a previously difficult user journey so customers could find the right information quickly and AGI could convert sales easily.

Pile of books on UX design based on human experience

Final thoughts

Our Strategy and UX teams use both qualitative and quantitative data to visualize a more detailed picture of the end product. Through profound insights, we comprehend users’ needs, interaction patterns, and decision-making processes to better understand the users we are building for.

The pandemic has shown us that our end users are diverse, and so are their needs. The digital solutions that we build cater to the needs of all and not just the majority. Qualitative research is a step in the right direction that gets us there.

Introducing this research in every step of the software development process is what makes our digital solutions more impactful and human.

If you’re interested in expanding your understanding of your customers through both qualitative and quantitative data, we can help. To find out more, please send us a message at

Co-Written by Rashika Srivastava