Understanding HCI


What is An Interview?

  1. May be used in conjunction with other techniques such as Ethnographic techniques or Technology Tours.
  2. Interviews should be thematic yet open-ended and discursive to allow the participant to direct the process somewhat.
  3. Extracts of interviews can be made to highlight details of particular interest.
  4. Habib et al (2002) used this technique to develop ‘family portraits’ where Hindus et al (2001) developed ‘day in the life of…’ portraits. Guided Speculation (Blythe et al, 2002) is another form of interview which may also be used to generate ideas.

Structured interview example

  1. Structured interviewing has a
    1. specific, predetermined agenda
    2. specific questions to guide and direct the interview
    3. more of an interrogation than unstructured interviewing, which is closer to a conversation.

An extract from a structured interview about a student information system:

Thinking about the Department’s web site, about how often have you have used these features during the last week:
Timetable not at all / most days / every day / more than once a day
Staff pages not at all / most days / every day / more than once a day
Module data not at all / most days / every day / more than once a day

  1. interviewer can explain questions
  2. but interviewee limited to pre-set replies

Unstructured interview example

  1. Unstructured interviewing methods are used during the earlier stages of usability evaluation.
  2. The objective is to gather as much information as possible concerning the user's experience.
  3. The interviewer does not have a well-defined agenda and is not concerned with any specific aspects of the system.
  4. The primary objective is to obtain information on procedures adopted by users and on their expectations of the system.

Some useful questions

  1. Tell me about your typical day
  2. Tell me three good things about…
  3. …and three bad things
  4. What if you had three wishes to make the application better?
  5. What has gone wrong with the application recently?
  6. How did you cope?
  7. What else should we have asked about?

Why Use it

Data can be gathered relatively easily and audio recorded for analysis.

Participants Needed


One usability expert is required for the exercise.


At least 2 users are required, but more users increase the validity of the findings.

Task List

  1. Introduce yourself
  2. Explain the goals of the interview
  3. Reassure about the ethical issues - privacy, rights to information
  4. Ask to record,
  5. Present and have the user sign an informed consent form (.doc) / informed consent form (.rtf).
  6. Record the interview. Making notes is often a distraction to the subject
  7. Make first questions easy & non-threatening.
  8. Phrase the questions in an open or neutral way. Also, encourage the user to reply with full sentences, rather than a simple "yes" or "no". For example, ask, "What do you think of this feature?" and not "Did you like this new feature?"
  9. Do not ask leading questions. For example, "how did that poorly designed dialog affect you?"
  10. Include instructions about the answer. For example, answers can range from lengthy descriptions, to briefer explanations, to identification or simple selection, to a simple "yes" or "no".
  11. Do not agree or disagree with the user; remain neutral.
  12. Use probes to obtain further information after the original question is answered (especially during the earlier stages of usability testing). Probes are used to encourage the subjects to continue speaking, or to guide their response in a particular direction so a maximum amount of useful information is collected. Types of probes include:
    1. Addition probe encourages more information or clarifies certain responses from the test users. Either verbally or nonverbally the message is, "Go on, tell me more," or "Don't stop."
    2. Reflecting probe, by using a nondirective technique, encourages the test user to give more detailed information. The interviewer can reformulate the question or synthesize the previous response as a proposition.
    3. Directive probe specifies the direction in which a continuation of the reply should follow without suggesting any particular content. A directive probe may take the form of "Why is the (the case)?"
    4. Defining probe requires the subject to explain the meaning of a particular term or concept.
  13. Include a few easy questions to defuse tension at the end
  14. Thank interviewee
  15. Switch recorder off

Conditions required

  1. Private Room
  2. Recording Equipment
  3. Prewritten Questions
  4. Informed Consent Form

Limitations Of method

  1. Data is second hand and subjective so corruption of data may occur unbeknownst to the researcher.
  2. Data may not be as reliable as that of purely ethnographic studies and field work may have to be carried out for verification.

Need to avoid:

  1. Long questions
  2. Compound sentences - split into two
  3. Jargon & language that the interviewee may not understand
  4. Leading questions that make assumptions e.g., why do you like …?
  5. Unconscious biases e.g., gender stereotypes

Exercise - Interview Design

  1. In pairs, design two interviews, one unstructured and one structured regarding the experience of using a tutorial system for flash / dreamweaver etc
  2. Consider:
    1. what do you want to learn? - ease of use, knowledge gained, interest levels, navigability, usefulness, logical structure
    2. in how much detail?
  3. One team member should conduct a structured interview on a non-team member.
  4. The other team member should conduct an unstrucured interview on a non-team member.
  5. Compare results.
    1. Was one method more effective?
    2. Which one?
    3. Why?