Editor’s note: Katie Gillespie is head of research at Sympler, a New York-based research firm. 

Research is a blend of the best of both science and art. We strive for reasoned explanation and representational accuracy while also embracing the power of emotional engagement, creativity and beauty. While the science is well documented, the art is often minimized or ignored. By embracing the artistic elements of qualitative marketing research, we can tap into a far deeper realm of curiosity, and in turn unlock nuances of human behavior, desires and motivations. It’s just as important to be creative as it is to be analytical, passionate as well as reasoned, to feel as well as to think and to arouse open-hearted curiosity while offering explanations.

In a quant-based world where humanity is stripped from data in service to efficiency, genuine connections with people are more critical than ever, and understanding the human aspect of consumer behavior is the differentiating factor that can set brands apart. 

Art feeds off intuition and messiness – the way people live, relate and consume. Careful attentiveness is at the heart of artistic-analytical inquiry.

The very best qualitative research goes beyond checking boxes or validating hypotheses. It's about forging a deep connection with participants. It encourages vulnerability, forces empathy and gifts us with a shift in perspective while seeking out nuance. In return, it consistently delivers those "ah-ha" moments – the details of the unexpected and unique directions. 

Albert Einstein once said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.” 

Coming to understand the mysteriousness of the human allows us to get beyond what we (and our clients) expect to see. We open our hearts and minds to the possibility of surprise, to not only understand our respondents but to be changed by t...