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Data Gathering

Chapter Introduction


The main goals of the chapter are to accomplish the following:

  • Discuss how to plan and run successful data gathering sessions.

  • Enable you to plan and run an interview.

  • Enable you to design a simple questionnaire.

  • Enable you to plan and carry out an observation.


Data is everywhere. Indeed, it is common to hear people say that we are drowning in data because there is so much of it. So, what is data? Data can be numbers, words, measurements, descriptions, comments, photos, sketches, films, videos, or almost anything that is useful for understanding a particular design, stakeholders’ goals, and people’s behavior. Data can be quantitative or qualitative. For example, the time it takes someone to find information on a web page and the number of clicks to get to the information are forms of quantitative data. What someone says about the web page is a form of qualitative data. But what does it mean to collect these and other kinds of data? What techniques can be used, and how useful and reliable is the data that is collected?

This chapter presents some techniques for data gathering that are commonly used in interaction design activities. In particular, data gathering is a central part of discovering requirements and evaluation. Within the requirements activity, data gathering is conducted to collect enough information so that design can proceed. Within evaluation, data gathering captures participants’ reactions and their performance with a system or prototype. All of the techniques discussed in this chapter can be used with little to no programming or technical skills. Techniques for managing huge amounts of data, such as those for scraping large volumes of data from online activities, like Twitter posts and the implications of their use, are discussed in Chapter 10, “Data at Scale and Ethical Concerns.”

Three main techniques for gathering data are introduced in this chapter: interviews, questionnaires, and observation. The next chapter discusses 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 can be conducted asynchronously, e.g. via email or chat, and are commonly conducted remotely. Questionnaires are a series of questions designed to be answered asynchronously, that is, without the presence of the investigator. These questionnaires may be online or paper-based. Observation may be direct or indirect. Direct observation involves observing participants’ activities as they happen. Indirect observation involves making a record of the participant'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, if possible, but to use them in combination so as to avoid biases that are inherent in any one approach.

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