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Qualitative Research Methods for Interaction Design

USI Programme,  Module E2-1, by Panos Markopoulos

February 2009

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 16/2



Introduction to qualitative research

methods and qualitative data analysis


Assignment 1. Analysis of data regarding communication needs.


Wed 18/2 9:30-11:00 Qualitative Data collection methods overview and intro to focus groups

Case study in QR by Iris Soute

  Assignment 2. Qualitative Data Collection
Thu 19/2 9:30-11:00      

Fri  20/2



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 a next mini-data collection that will take place either as a short interview/focus group during this week. If this phase reaches some interesting conclusions you are encouraged to continue this investigation during the video prototyping course).

The project topic concerns the affective benefits and costs from mediated awareness regarding family and friends. 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 systems for achieving mediated awareness and connectedness. In related literature, there is an abundance of variations of how such systems behave, what information is communicated, how much control people have. Scenarios discussed address a wide variety of user groups and needs: co-workers, lovers, grandparents/grandchildren, parents/children through the day, etc.

The promise of such systems is for connected individuals to live in the constant "presence in absence" of others, having at their "peripheral reach" a blog, ora newsfeed about their activities, expressions of feelings, or thoughtful messages. Sleep patterns, moods, whereabouts, level of activity, etc. are some of the types of information such systems are designed to provide. 

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

  • What are the affective costs and benefits of mediated awareness?

It is often anticipated that people should experience emotional benefits relating to the basic human need to belong. Reassurance that loved ones are well, emotional support, self-expression are all possible benefits that have been discussed in different research projects.  It is also thought that mediated awareness can bring costs relating to obligations (e.g., to call someone you'd rather not at that time), expectations that are unmet, privacy threats, etc.

You are not starting from scratch. There is some work into this you can rely on. I would like you to start from the point of the ABC questionnaire: This is an attempt to operationalize costs and benefits and measure them using a questionnaire. You are requested to take a step back and check the assumptions built into this questionnaire by considering qualitative data from different user groups and collected through different methods.

Data Sets:

  • Interviews of Divorced Parents, by Lana Yarosh
  • Interviews of Busy Parents, by J.Khan


  • your presentation
  • report (max 5000 words) detailing your process, your results and reflections upon the exercise if relevant; you are encouraged to use the ACM extended abstracts format

Reports should be mailed to Panos by Friday 17:00.

N.B. Only one report and presentation needs to be made for both assignments 1 and 2.


Assignment 2  Data Collection

Option A. Checking your conclusions

Summarize your conclusions from the analysis; Plan and execute a focus group to verify/extend your findings.

Option B. This is a reading assignment. Please prepare a 10' presentation to describe a method for collecting or analyzing qualitative data - you can consult the list below or a more extensive list at 2008_IDC_MastersID_DBB03.htm.

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





Hsiu-Fang Hsieh and Sarah E. Shannon Three Approaches to Qualitative Content Analysis  Qual Health Res 2005; 15; 1277

Recommended textbook:

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

Sources for the methods assignment; here is an initial list of papers to choose from:

Past Runs of this Course

2006, 2007, 2008