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Technology and the Changing World of Research Design

Technology and the Changing World of Research Design

iModerate Author

Apr 03, 2012

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Technology is no longer a means to an end, but a platform of diversity that identifies who people are and how to reach them. Market research respondents no longer look the same as before. They are now an ever changing audience that has become increasingly difficult to anticipate technologically. Only a few years ago, the field of view was straightforward. Most people used a Windows-based operating system for personal/home use and relied on Internet Explorer as their primary web browser. Most screens were one of a very few sizes and everything was a laptop or desktop.

Enter Steve Jobs – the name that engenders modern innovation when spoken. Apple has always been a contender in the battle for the GUI (Graphical User Interface) oriented operating system, but had difficulty gaining any real traction. Why? Windows is business-oriented and had proprietary software tools that created the necessity to own it through tools such as Microsoft Word and Excel. Steve Jobs was placed in a position to do what he does best. He made the game changer, and called it the iPhone.

And it changed everything. People began to re-imagine the way they interacted with basic computational ideas. It’s a phone that’s a browser. It’s a browser that’s a GPS. It’s a GPS that’s a camera. The iPhone is portable, it browses the web anywhere, it’s lighter than a laptop, its battery lasts longer, its programs are cheaper, its apps are more diverse … and oh yeah, did I mention it’s hip? Individuals who weren’t sure if the investment in a high-priced computer would be warranted no longer needed one.

This, of course, gave birth to the tablet which, quite possibly, may end the reign of the PC. Apple’s iPad is nowhere near the power of the computer, but doesn’t need to be. The average user doesn’t need a high-end processor and graphics card. What they really want/need is something to browse the internet, play quick games and read books. Following suit, others have reached the same conclusion and are replicating the idea. Google repackaged the Linux Ubuntu operating system into a tidy system called Android – Apple’s biggest rival in tablet and smartphone sales. Even Microsoft has realized the need to change and will unveil its new tablet-oriented Windows 8. We’ll see the first of these tablets this fall, most likely brought to us by Lenovo. With this new era of computing, we are seeing the golden age of computing, right?

Well, maybe. The problem with progress is, as always, change. Each system wants to be the system and in the world of technology that means proprietary ideas/differences. Consider Adobe’s Flash product. It was one of the simplest ways to create visually appealing websites with moving parts. However, Apple refused to support the software, stating that it wasted battery power and granted power to web designers that could be disruptive to the user experience. Google’s Android on the other hand, disagreed and openly supported the product. That leaves software developers with a simple, albeit painful, decision. Should they continue to program in Flash and target the Android audience, or should they attempt to tackle HTML5 (in its earliest phases of infancy at best with little backward support to older PC’s)?

As market researchers, we’re faced with an even more complicated dilemma. In the majority of cases, we aren’t really afforded the luxury of targeting specific types of devices. Our technological requirement is diversity, creating surveys and studies that reach out to all individuals, regardless of device or platform. Clients expect this of us and our job is to suit their needs, first and foremost. Of course, it’s all well and good to say that, but is that even possible?

For the most part, yes, actually, but we have to take the time to be smart about it. At iModerate, we have taken the time to identify certain key uncertainties and come up with some innovative solutions. A good example of this would be a browser detection pattern that automatically detects the platform and identifies an optimal display pattern for that device. For our studies, whether the respondent is on a well-aged (but trusty) PC, or on a new stylish iPhone, the system reads the screen to show a survey that will provide the best possible user experience.

When all is said and done, there’s no absolute solution to the problem. For this reason, research designers have an obligation to consider the various possibilities associated with who they are trying to reach and get their tech team involved to do the necessary work up front. In the end, you can come up with the most insightful study in the world, but if it doesn’t mesh with the user’s technology and display exactly the way you want it, how effective is it? There are many factors that go into getting the best results, and this is one that I fear is too often overlooked.

After all, not all respondents look the same. Right now, as you’re reading this, what device are you using, and how does that identify you?

iModerate Author

  • Lance Ledbetter

    Very nice article. Patty and I are looking forward to working with you.

  • becky k

    Great article! Very refreshing to read the part about the potential for uncertainties in the responses or not always hitting the target audience- as many research organizations pretend like they do not exist.The ethical piece sold me.

iModerate does an excellent job with the qualitative. I am continually impressed with the discussion guides they put together, with the data output, and the reports they provide…it is an excellent deliverable. And our members over the years have provided me and others in the department with specific feedback, saying just how rich and how useful the information is.

Tara Hutton, Director of Marketing Research, Consumer Electronics Association