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Qualitative Research Methods for Interaction Design

USI Programme,  Module E 2-1, Panos Markopoulos

February 2008

The aim of this 40hrs module is for students to familiarize with qualitative research techniques as these can be used for supporting interaction design (sometimes the term Design Research is used to describe these techniques).

The module will give an overview of Qualitative Research Methods as they have been adapted for Design Research. It will motivate qualitative research in general and sensitize students to the different priorities of designers and scientists. The module starts with an introduction lecture to Qualitative Research Methods and Design Research methods. It then covers analysis of qualitative data obtained by earlier studies and will then lead on to formulating a new iteration of qualitative data collection. 

The mini project, is combined and leads on to the video prototyping course . Educationally the aim of this combination is to show the iterative nature of qualitative research and how research can feed into the design process.




Lecture / Presentations

Deadlines/Presentations by students


Mon 11/2



Introduction to qualitative research

methods and qualitative data analysis


Assignment 1. Analysis of data regarding communication needs.


Tue 12/2 9:30-11:00 Presentation of data sets (N.A.Romero, J.V.Khan, P.Dadlani)    
Wed 13/2 9:30-11:00 Qualitative Data collection methods overview and intro to focus groups   Assignment 2. Method Reading Assignment
Thu 14/2 9:30-11:00    Presentations for assignment 2  

Fri  15/2



Conclusions from data analysis and focus group plan



Assignment 1:  Analyzing Qualitative Data
This is a team assignment for groups of 4-5. You are requested to analyze the data from one of the earlier studies presented to you and use this to provide a theory regarding awareness that answers the research questions noted below. The analysis should motivate the next round of data collection that will take place during the video prototyping course).

The project topic concerns the acceptance of awareness systems. Consider this example scenario below:

" Alison 75, is retired, well in her health and living alone and independently at her home town. A robotic rabbit on her mantelpiece lights up whenever there is activity at the home of her daughter Barbara living 60 kilometers away. After dinner she awaits for some activity indication at Barbara's home. She knows then that the whole family is back home and are getting ready for dinner. She likes to have the reassurance that everything is as normal. She often waits for an hour after dinner before calling Barbara to have a little chat. Barbara, uses her rabbit to show if Alison is at home or out. She is happy to see that her mother goes out for a walk every now and then. She would like also to know how Alison has eaten today and how she feels, but she has to find these things out by phoning. This is nice, it is good to chat every day, but sometimes she feels her mother avoids to complain so as not to load her with her troubles not of her own."

The rabbit in this scenario is typical of a wide variety of design concepts, market products or research oriented scenarios exploring the use of awareness systems for connectedness. In related literature, there is an abundance of variations of how the system behaves, what information is communicated, how much control people have over it. Scenarios discussed address a variety of user groups and needs (co-workers, lovers, grandparents/grandchildren, parents/children through the day, etc.). Related proposals aim  to connect people by providing almost continuous streams of information to connect their homes, their mobiles or their offices. Eventually, people should be able to live in the constant "presence in absence" of others, having at their "peripheral reach" a blog, or a newsfeed about their activities, feelings, or whatever else the designers consider presenting to them. Sleep patterns, moods, whereabouts, level of activity, etc. are typical ones to feature on this list. Little is yet known about how much people actually want to have this information.

During this course you will analyze data collected from related user research, to answer the following questions:

  • Do people want to receive awareness information from connected others?
  • Which information would that be?
  • Which are acceptable/desirable ways for users to manage related information flow? 

The analysis should be crafted into a narrative relating to the way information was collected and the procedures followed to analyze it. It should conclude with

  • a reflection on the soundness of the research approach, based on the papers given and
  • a research question that you will attempt to answer in the following module (video prototyping course).

Deliverables are

  • your presentation (and its slides)
  • report of max 3000 words describing the above (process, outcome, reflection and research question for the next course)

Please mail the presentation and your report to me on Friday at the end of the module.


Assignment 2 Reading Assignment on Methods

This is a team assignment for 3. Please prepare a 10' presentation to describe a method for collecting or analyzing qualitative data.

The deliverables are

  • a presentation to the class
  • a short report (max 1500 words) 

Your presentation and report should describe

  • Step by step guide of what to do.
  • How does data collected feed into design?
  • Tips to follow
  • Pitfalls to avoid.
  • Rationale of the method
  • Relation to other methods
  • Known uses (cases)
  • An example



Recommended textbook: M. Kuniavsky's  "Observing the User Experience" Morgan-Kaufmann.

For the methods assignment, here is an initial list of papers to choose from:

Past Runs of this Course

2006, 2007