Qualitative HCI Research

Qualitative HCI Research

Going Behind the Scenes

Ann Blandford, Dominic Furniss, Stephann Makri
ISBN: 9781627057592 | PDF ISBN: 9781627057608
Copyright © 2016 | 136 Pages | Publication Date: April, 2016

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Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) addresses problems of interaction design: understanding user needs to inform design, delivering novel designs that meet user needs, and evaluating new and existing designs to determine their success in meeting user needs. Qualitative methods have an essential role to play in this enterprise, particularly in understanding user needs and behaviours and evaluating situated use of technology. Qualitative methods allow HCI researchers to ask questions where the answers are more complex and interesting than 'true' or 'false,' and may also be unexpected. In this lecture, we draw on the analogy of making a documentary film to discuss important issues in qualitative HCI research: historically, films were presented as finished products, giving the viewer little insight into the production process; more recently, there has been a trend to go behind the scenes to expose some of the painstaking work that went into creating the final cut. Similarly, in qualitative research, the essential work behind the scenes is rarely discussed.

There are many 'how to' guides for particular methods, but few texts that start with the purpose of a study and then discuss the important details of how to select a suitable method, how to adapt it to fit the study context, or how to deal with unexpected challenges that arise. We address this gap by presenting a repertoire of qualitative techniques for understanding user needs, practices and experiences with technology for the purpose of informing design. We also discuss practical considerations such as tactics for recruiting participants and ways of getting started when faced with a pile of interview transcripts. Our particular focus is on semi-structured qualitative studies, which occupy a space between ethnography and surveys - typically involving observations, interviews and similar methods for data gathering, and methods of analysis based on systematic coding of data.

Just as a documentary team faces challenges that often go unreported when arranging expeditions or interviews and gathering and editing footage within time and budget constraints, so the qualitative research team faces challenges in obtaining ethical clearance, recruiting participants, analyzing data, choosing how and what to report, etc. We present illustrative examples drawn from prior experience to bring to life the purpose, planning and practical considerations of doing qualitative studies for interaction design. We include takeaway checklists for planning, conducting, reporting and evaluating semi-structured qualitative studies.

Table of Contents

Planning a Study
Sampling and Recruitment
Gathering Data
Analyzing Data
Paradigms and Strategies
Ensuring Quality in Qualitative Research
Conclusions and Further Resources
Authors' Biographies

About the Author(s)

Ann Blandford, University College London
Ann Blandford is Professor of Human-Computer Interaction at University College London and Director of UCL Institute of Digital Health. Her research focuses on the design and use of interactive technology in healthcare delivery, and particularly on how to design systems that fit well in their context of use and for their intended purposes. She has published widely on the design and situated use of interactive health technologies, on how technology can be designed to better support people’s needs, and on modelling situated interactions. She has supervised over 20 PhD student projects to completion, and around 100 MSc student dissertations.

Dominic Furniss, University College London
Dominic Furniss is a Senior Research Associate at University College London. He works in Human Factors and HCI, largely in the context of healthcare. His expertise focuses on the evaluation of the design and use of technology in-situ, and understanding how technology enhances and disrupts the broader system it is embedded within. Qualitative research has been, and is, critical to this work. This has included a theoretical approaches using Grounded Theory, and developing novel methods to be adopted and adapted by others in Distributed Cognition and Resilience Engineering.

Stephann Makri, City University London
Stephann Makri is a Lecturer in Human-Computer Interaction at City University London, with over a decade of experience in qualitative HCI research. Motivated by big 'how' questions of information interaction, such as 'how do people look for and make use of information?' and 'how do people come across information serendipitously?' Stephann has a passion for gaining a detailed understanding of interactive behaviour and feeding that understanding into suggestions for the design and improvement of interactive systems.


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