Tips To Designing Smartphone Qualitative

12 crucial tips to designing smartphone qualitative that gets great insight

Over the Shoulder has been helping put smartphone-based qualitative into the toolkit of qual researchers and insight seekers for almost nine years now. We’re often asked by clients to list the biggest tips and “watch-outs” that smartphone qual practitioners should bear in mind to make their jobs easier and their deliverables to clients more valuable.

So we put the question to our in-house team of smartphone qualitative designers and turned their years of experience into the list of 12 crucial tips below.

  1. Design your project to be entertaining and engaging.

    Great smartphone qualitative leverages the intimacy people have with their smartphones, and the enjoyment participants get out of telling their stories and sharing their truths. Your study design should always reflect this. So “de-formalize” and “conversationalize” your language. “Gamify” your assignments. Fill your study with “Easter Egg” questions that provide moments of levity and little emotional rewards.

    Use a platform that lets you set up logic to give real-time acknowledgment to your participants. For example, if you as a participant to rate their test-drive experience from “Amazing” to “Disappointing” and they chose “Disappointing,” following up with “Oh no! What do you mean when you say ‘Disappointing’?” It makes participants feel like they’re engaging with someone who really wants to hear what they have to say, not a machine.

    If you include scales, remember that rating the moment you’ve just experienced on a scale of “Best time ever” through “Major bummer” is more fun and conducive to emotional disclosure than rating it on a scale of “1-7, with 7 being extremely enjoyable.” Just about any project can be designed to be engaging to interact with, and the insights you get back get better when your project is entertaining and fun to be part of.

  2. Ask only the most important questions, and as few of them as possible.The biggest surprise our first-time clients get is the sheer volume of response you get from a project. And that’s great, as long as you’ve been disciplined in your design, and kept the number of audio and video recordings you ask for to a reasonable level. But if you ask too many audio and video questions, you’ll be awash in media response, and all the time we spend building tools to make your analysis more efficient will be powerless to help you. Asking for too much is the number one mistake first-time practitioners make and it can simultaneously kill your project profitability and annoy your participants while adding nothing to the insightfulness of your project.
  3. The right sample is the smallest one possible.Again, smartphone qualitative produces a large quantity of rich photo, audio, video, and other data. Keeping your sample as small as possible reduces the amount of data you’ll need to analyze.

    Most studies don’t need more than 20-30 carefully-selected, engaged participants to produce great insight. Our “rule of thumb” is that each segment of your sample that you want to be able to understand and isolate from the others should have about 15 participants in it. 15 participants typically gets you to the feeling of “saturation” (where you start hearing the same themes and stories repeatedly, and the number of new ideas diminishes quickly).

We’ve listed the remaining 9 tips below. To read the full article with the text for the 9 tips below, visit us at

  1. Choose a study length that lets you see a proper window into the behaviors you want to understand.
  2. Always participate in an on-device test of your project before you launch it.
  3. Make participating easy for your participants.
  4. Choose response media so that participants can easily and comfortably express themselves. Don’t just default to “video” as the response format.
  5. Review your results while your study is live, and ask follow-up questions.
  6. Ensure that you have participants who are real people, engaging fully in your project
  7. Have an analysis plan, and design your study to make analysis easier and efficient.
  8. Make your project entertaining and engaging for your clients. 
  9. Respect the privacy of your participants.

Editor’s note: Over The Shoulder will be speaking and exhibiting at the upcoming QUAL360 North America Conference on March 21-22 in Washington D.C. Join Ross McLean and his team to learn about their latest research methodologies. Register now!


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