Editor's note: Susan Fader is qualitative researcher, strategist and moderator at FaderFocus, a New York research firm.

In the 1980s, Judy Langer brought together a group of New York City-based qualitative researchers to form the Qualitative Research Consultants Association (QRCA). “We were a group of ‘moderators’ who did research on consumer products, media and public opinion issues,” she says. 

Langer, who began her career doing both quantitative and qualitative research, says she began to focus on qualitative research because she enjoyed it more. Her impetus for reaching out to other qualitative researchers? “Qualitative research was always being put down at ARF [Advertising Research Foundation] conferences – that qualitative research was not really research and that only quantitative research was real,” she says. “ARF was the research conference at the time, so the goal of getting together was to get respect for what we did.” 

Today, the QRCA is the world’s largest professional organization of qualitative researchers. Members reside throughout the United States and in 36 other countries, and they use many different descriptors and have vastly broadened the areas of research. While some QRCA members use the term qualitative researcher as their primary descriptor, other members use ethnographer, social media expert, customer experience researcher (CX) researchers and user experience (UX) researchers, with UX being the fastest growing descriptor. 

Mary Sorber, principal user researcher, Wells Fargo, and the co-chair of the QRCA UX SIG, explains this qualitative research descriptor expansion by saying, “Qualitative is the bigger umbrella and there are flavors of it. UX research is one flavor and qualitative market research is another flavor. The thing to recognize is that the term qualitative now applies to more than just market research.”

While companies such as Panasonic and Verizon ha...