Chapter 8: Data Gathering

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What 'improving the product' means will depend on the type of product you select and its purpose. In the context of this in-depth activity, 'improving the product' means making it easier to perform the intended tasks. This may not be the case for other products such as games, where 'improving the product' may mean making it more fun to use or making it more aesthetically pleasing.


Encourage your user(s) to explore the product. While they do this watch what they do and try to get a feel for what they want to do and how they are trying to do it. Spending time watching your users in this way may indicate what aspects of their interaction you need to investigate more thoroughly in order to improve the product.


It's likely that all three data gathering techniques will be useful in this situation. Observation will yield data about how the product is used, while interviews and questionnaires will provide user accounts of their interaction and their preferences. Much of your observation will be concerned with trying to understand what exactly users are trying to do. As you gain a better understanding you will be able to refine your ideas about what 'improving the product' means and start to consider ways of achieving this goal. Having done a preliminary observation you should be able to plan your study. A central issue will be to decide on the degree of participation you wish to have. Being an outsider (passive observation) may make the group feel self-conscious so they change their behavior. On the other hand, you have limited time to gain acceptance as an insider (participant observation). Your choice is also likely to depend on your personality, how well you know the people or person you are observing, and to some extent on the data collection and analysis tools that are available. Having colleagues to work with may also influence your choice of approach. For example, two observers working with users in a relatively 'insider' fashion will most likely be easier than one person working on his or her own.


Ideally, the people being observed would also complete the interview and/or questionnaire, and you will need to decide whether and how to prepare the group for the second stage of data gathering. There is a balance here, though, if you have already told them about your data gathering plan before observing them then their behavior may change. However if you don't warn them then they may not want to take part in the interviews and questionnaire stages.