Authors: Preece, Rogers & Sharp
Case Studies
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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

Imagine you have designed a website for sharing music, gossip, and photos among teenagers. You have used Flash to prototype your first design and implemented the core functionality. How would you find out whether it would appeal to teenagers and if they will use it? You would carry out an evaluation study.

Evaluation is integral to the design process. It collects information about users’ or potential users’ experiences when interacting with a prototype, computer system, a component of a computer system, or a design artifact, e.g. screen sketch, in order to improve its design. It focuses on both the usability of the system, e.g. how easy it is to learn and to use, and on the users’ experience when interacting with the system, e.g. how satisfying, enjoyable, or motivating the interaction is.

The web’s presence and, more recently, the proliferation of cell phones and other small digital devices like iPods, has heightened awareness about usability, but many designers still assume that if they and their colleagues can use the product and find it attractive, others will too. The problem with this argument is that designers are often not like the target user population. For example, a 24-year-old software developer is likely to have different characteristics from a retired 86-year-old teacher with little computer experience. Without evaluation, designers cannot be sure that their design is usable by the target user population, and that it is what users want.

There are many different evaluation methods, some of which involve users directly, while others call indirectly on an understanding of users’ needs and psychology. Sometimes evaluation is done in a laboratory and other times in natural work or leisure settings. This chapter starts by discussing why evaluation is important, what needs to be evaluated, where that evaluation should take place, and when in the product lifecycle evaluation is needed. We introduce some terms that are used in this and other books you may read. We then introduce three evaluation approaches and key evaluation methods, and examine six short evaluation case studies which illustrate them. For each one we look at the aim of the evaluation, at what stage the evaluation was done during design, the techniques that are used to collect and analyze the data, and the challenges that the evaluators encountered. The chapter ends with a discussion of what we learn from the case studies.

The main aims of this chapter are to:

  • Illustrate how observation, interviews, and questionnaires that you encountered
    in Chapters 7 and 8 are used in evaluation.

  • Explain the key concepts and terms used in evaluation.

  • Introduce three main evaluation approaches and key evaluation methods
    within the context of real evaluation studies.

  • Examine how the approaches and methods are used for different purposes at different stages of the design process.

  • Discuss some of the practical challenges that evaluators have to consider when doing