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An introduction to interaction design
An introduction to interaction design

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Matching methods to questions

The above categorisation is not meant to be complete, but rather to draw your attention to how methods are characterised, and particularly to what they emphasise or focus on. Different methods provide different kinds of information and matching the designer’s question to the method of enquiry is crucial. For example, questions about usability are usually addressed by observing behaviour. Questions about the user experience are usually addressed by asking the user, or by a combination of asking and observing, because we can’t yet look into people’s minds to see what they think!

Similarly, the way we record responses or observations may vary, depending on what we want to know. If we’re interested in user experience, we might need to focus on users’ accounts – or we might want to examine the relationship between what users report and how they behave. If we’re interested in behaviour, we might be satisfied with measuring how long users take to perform a given task and counting how many errors they make (known as time and accuracy measures), or we might want an analysis of where errors occurred. Hence, the data we collect may be numeric or it may be descriptive. And we might use different forms of data to complement each other.

Table 1 summarises this simple categorisation, which can be interpreted as a set of choices to consider when trying to choose a method to answer a question, whether about requirements, usability, or user experience, i.e. whichever interaction design activity is being performed. It may be that you are aware of other ways of characterising methods that are particularly relevant or striking in your work. This discussion gives you a flavour of things to consider and particularly how it is important to pick an approach that will answer the question you have.

Table 1 A simple, general categorisation of methods
Ask Observe
Individual or group Individual or group
More or less structured Naturalistic or controlled
Face-to-face or by correspondence Direct or indirect
Numeric or descriptive data Numeric or descriptive data

Activity 7 Categorising methods

Timing: 30 minutes

Think back to Video 1.2 about the history of the telephone keypad.

  • a.Various methods were used to work out which keypad layout was the preferred one. How would you categorise those methods? Did they ask users or observe them? If they asked, was it more or less structured? If they used observation, was it direct or indirect? Was it in a controlled or a naturalistic setting? Why would they have selected that method?
  • b.A specific method was used to work out the minimum length for a telephone cord. How would you describe the method that was used?


  • a.When the researchers were beginning to think about this issue and got participants to fill in blank layouts, they were trying to gauge preference, but they were doing so by directly observing people’s spontaneous behaviour (how they arranged the numbers – similar to the case of Bunnyfoot’s acetates). They used repetition of blank layouts, which allowed them to carry out quite a structured test conducted in the controlled setting of a laboratory. Five years later, when the researchers started to build the new phones, they got participants to actually dial numbers using phones with different layouts; directly observing behaviour to assess performance (rather than just preference); for comparison, it is likely that people’s performance was recorded (e.g. by logging the dialled numbers) and that the tests were quite structured. This test was also conducted in the controlled settings of a laboratory. At the same time, the researchers simply asked participants which of the layouts was their favourite; presumably the participants were asked directly and not necessarily in a structured way, and it is likely that the setting was still that of a laboratory.
  • b.This study was conducted in a naturalistic setting; even though this was the setting of a research lab, for the researchers whose behaviour was being probed, the office was the habitual place of work; the test was trying to elicit people’s reactions about the length of the cable, so in that respect, it aimed to observe behaviour. To do so the test was conducted in a systematic, controlled way by cutting the cord a little bit at regular intervals.