Chapter 7: Data Gathering

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The main aims of the chapter are to:

  • Discuss how to plan and run a successful data gathering program.
  • Enable you to plan and run an interview.
  • Enable you to design a simple questionnaire.
  • Enable you to plan and carry out an observation.


This chapter presents some techniques for data gathering which are commonly used in interaction design activities. In particular, data gathering is a central part of establishing requirements, and of evaluation. Within the requirements activity, the purpose of data gathering is to collect sufficient, accurate, and relevant data so that a set of stable requirements can be produced; within evaluation, data gathering is needed in order to capture users' reactions and performance with a system or prototype.

In this chapter we introduce three main techniques for gathering data: interviews, questionnaires, and observation. In the next chapter we discuss how to analyze and interpret the data collected. Interviews involve an interviewer asking one or more interviewees a set of questions which may be highly structured or unstructured; interviews are usually synchronous and are often face-to-face, but they don't have to be. Questionnaires are a series of questions designed to be answered asynchronously, i.e. without the presence of the investigator; these may be on paper, or online. Observation may be direct or indirect. Direct observation involves spending time with individuals observing activity as it happens. Indirect observation involves making a record of the user's activity as it happens to be studied at a later date. All three techniques may be used to collect qualitative or quantitative data.

Although this is a small set of basic techniques, they are flexible and can be combined and extended in many ways. Indeed it is important not to focus on just one data gathering technique but to use them flexibly and in combination so as to avoid biases which are inherent in any one approach. The way in which each technique is used varies depending on the interaction design activity being undertaken. More detailed descriptions of how they are used and additional techniques relevant only to specific activities of the lifecycle are given in later chapters (Chapter 10 for requirements, and Chapters 13-15 for evaluation).