Qualitative research aims to comprehensively understand the user through various methods, such as interviews, observation, and focus groups. To help UX designers understand user needs, qualitative research is conducted at the beginning of the design process to inform them of user behaviour, motivations, and attitudes. The results are usually reported in a narrative form.
Qualitative research helps you fully understand your users as it gives you in-depth insights about them, which would be otherwise difficult to get (for example, through quantitative methods). It also makes it easier to identify the needs and pain points of the user by focusing on the user's experience with the product. UX designers can also use the findings from qualitative research early in the design process to ensure that product design is user-centric from the beginning.
Qualitative research can also give context or explain quantitative research findings and serve as a source for design ideas.
To conduct successful qualitative research, you should use various available methods – interviews, observations, and focus groups. You also should involve your users in the research process to understand the behaviours, attitudes, and motivations of people who will be using your product. Remember to thoroughly analyse your data and identify any patterns and themes you can find.
There are also several things you shouldn't do. For example, you shouldn't rely only on the results of qualitative data. For the best results, it's important to conduct both qualitative and quantitative research and let the findings complement each other (e.g. let qualitative research give context for the statistics). Another thing to avoid is ignoring negative feedback. While it's hard to hear the bad things one may say about your product, it's essential to listen, take it into account and improve the parts where users were unsatisfied.
Finally, another good rule to follow is don't forget to report your results. Write your findings clearly and concisely, highlight crucial results, and include recommendations for the design team.
Qualitative research is an excellent step towards fully understanding what drives (or annoys) your users so you can create a digital product they will enjoy. Still, the most successful UX research combines both: qualitative and quantitative research. Having statistics and context for them allows you to create a product that actually meets the users' needs.