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An introduction to interaction design
An introduction to interaction design

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Observing the users

A different approach is based on observing users and other stakeholders in different situations. You could do this directly, for example, by watching people while they are performing activities in their usual work or home setting; or you could watch them perform activities in a laboratory; or you might automatically log their interactions with a prototype through the technology itself. Where you do the observation depends on the nature of the activity you wish to observe and what you want to know about it. Alternatively, you could observe them indirectly, for example, by asking them to keep a record of their activities or of every time they use your prototype.

Observational methods can be applied in a naturalistic or in a controlled way. A naturalistic setting would be one in which the activity normally takes place, for example, someone’s home setting or their workplace. This might be useful if you want to understand what users and stakeholders do in their daily lives. On the other hand, a controlled setting, such as a specially set up laboratory or space, could help you observe very specific aspects of an interaction and help to eliminate things that might interfere with what you want to understand, for example, distractions that might slow the user down. A naturalistic task would be one that arises normally in the user’s world and that allows the user flexibility in prioritising goals and deciding how to approach the task. This might help you understand what sorts of things users normally do and what challenges or needs they have. On the other hand, a controlled task would constrain the users’ choices so that all users do essentially the same, well-defined activity; this allows more rigorous comparisons of behaviours.