Authors: Preece, Rogers & Sharp
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2 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 Chapter Index
Observing Users


Chapter Introduction | Web Resources | Assignment Comments | Teaching Materials


Observation involves watching and listening to users. Observing users interacting
with software, even casual observing, can tell you an enormous amount about what
they do, the context in which they do it, how well technology supports them, and
what other support is needed. In Chapter 9 we discussed the role of observation and
ethnography in informing design, particularly early in the process. In this chapter
we describe how to observe and do ethnography and discuss their role in evaluation.
Users can be observed in controlled laboratory­like conditions, as in usability testing, or in the natural environments in which the products are used—i.e. the field. How the observation is done depends on why it is being done and the approach adopted. There is a variety of structured, less structured, and descriptive observation techniques for evaluators to choose from. Which they select and how their findings are interpreted will depend upon the evaluation goals, the specific questions being addressed, and practical constraints. This chapter focuses on how to select appropriate observation techniques, how to do observation, and how to analyze the data and present findings from it. We also discuss the benefits and practicalities associated with each technique. An interview with interaction design consultant Sara Bly at the end of the chapter discusses how she uses observation in her work.

The main aims of this chapter are to:

  • Discuss the benefits and challenges of different types of observation.
  • Describe how to observe as an on­looker, a participant, and an ethnographer.
  • Discuss how to collect, analyze and present data from observational evaluation.
  • Examine key issues for doing think­aloud evaluation, diary studies and interaction logging.
  • Give you experience in selecting and doing observational evaluation.
  • In general, observing and talking to users usually go together, but we leave the details of interview techniques until Chapter 13.