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Qualitative Research Methods for Interaction Design

USI Programme,  by Panos Markopoulos

June 2015

Qualitative research methods have developed largely within the social sciences and recently have been applied to the field of interaction design. This application is usually combined with a mix of creativity and elements of surprise introduced in the research, but also often with a lack of the methodological knowledge needed to analyze the data collected or to put the findings into perspective.

The aim of this course is for students to familiarize with methods and processes for performing qualitative research. The skills learnt are useful for both research projects and for supporting the design process; during the course we shall highlight how one needs to adapt methods and mindset for one or the other.  This course aims to provide interaction designers with an awareness of processes for analysing non numerical data, but also related caveats and opportunities.  It aims also to provide them with a reference framework so that the numerous combinations and variations of known methods that they may apply in a particular project can be related to each other. Most of all, the objective is to break mental barriers between research and design and to show how a scientific approach to studying humans may be revealing and rewarding for interaction designers.

The topics covered include:

·         What is qualitative research?

·         Why should you do it?

·         An overview of different ways to collect qualitative data

·         Cultural Probes and Context Mapping Methods\

·         Repertory Grids

·         Affinity diagrams: a simple but robust way to analyze qualitative data

·         Open and Closed Coding

·         Quality criteria for qualitative research

This year the course is aligned with the design case. There will be two mornings with lectures, and the methods taught will be applied to the design case projects. The work will be presented in the following design case presentation (24/11)





Lecture / Presentations


Mon 8/6



Traverse Zaal 2

Introduction to Qualitative Research, Formulating Research Questions, and Qualitative Data collection methods

 Writing a research plan



Tue 9/6


Traverse Zaal 2

 Discussion Study Plan and Data Analysis

 Data collection (interviews/probes)

Thu 11/6


Traverse Zaal 2

Analysis and reporting for QR

Analysis of data collected

Fri 12/6


Traverse Zaal 2

Presentation of data collection and analysis as part of the design case presentation of needs analysis 



Video instruction material (some teasers for the methods created by ID students)

·                   Introduction to cultural probes video by Roland Corps and  Dirk van Erve (2011)based on Gaver, Dunne and Pacenti (1999) and related articles. 

·                   Technology Probes. Video by Bastiaan Ekeler and Nik Sturkenboom (2011), based on paper by Hutchinson et al (2005).

·                   Diary Studies,    Video by Marco van Beers and Kim van Iersel (2011).

·                   Repertory Grids, Video,by Jelle Dekker, Michael Geertshuis, Robbert van Vliet (2011), based on the paper by Hassenzahl and Rainer Wessler (2000).

Some useful reading

·         Bolger ,N., Davis, A., Rafaeli, E. (2002)  Diary Methods: Capturing Life as it is Lived. Annual Review of Psychology Vol. 54: 579-616

·         Carter, S., Mankoff, J., When Participants Do the Capturing: The Role of Media in Diary Studies, Proceedings ACM CHI 2005.

·         Dittmann-kohli, F., & Westerhof, G. J. (1997). The SELE sentence completion questionnaire : A new instrument for the assessment of personal meaning in research on aging. Anuario de Psicología, (73), 7-18.

·         Gaver, B., Dunne, T., & , Pacenti. E. (1999). Cultural probes. Interactions, 6(1), 21-29.

·         Hassenzahl, M. and Wessler, R., Capturing design space from a user perspective: The Repertory Grid Technique revisited. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 2000. 12(3-4): p. 441-459.

·         Hutchinson, H., Mackay, W., Westerlund, B., Bederson, B.B., Druin, A., Plaisant, C., Beaudoin-Lafon, M., Conversy, S., Evans, H., Han-sen, H., Roussel, N., Eiderbäck, B., Lindquist, S., & Sundblad, Y. (2003). Technology Probes: Inspiring Design for and with Families. CHI 2005, (pp. 17-24). ACM Press.

·         Kubey, R., Larson, R., & Csikzentmihalyi, M. (1996). Experience sampling method applications to communication research questions. Journal of Communication, 46, 99-118.

·         O'Brien, J., Rodden, T., Rouncefield, M., & Hughes, J. (2000). At Home with Technology: An Ethnographic Study of a Set-Top Box Trial. ACM To-CHI, 6(3), 282-308.

·         Palen,L & Salzman, M. Voice-mail diary studies for naturalistic data capture under mobile conditions. In ACM CSCW ’02, pages 87–95, 2002.

·         Rugg, G., McGeorge, P., The sorting techniques: a tutorial paper on card sorts, picture sorts and item sorts. Expert Systems, 2005.

·         Thomas J. Reynolds and Jonathan Gutman, "Laddering theory, method, analysis, and interpretation," in Understanding consumer decision making : the means-end approach to marketing and advertising strategy, ed. Thomas J. Reynolds and Jerry C. Olsen (Mahwah N.J. ;;London: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2001), 25-52.

·         Turkle, S. (1998). An Ethnologist in Cyberspace. Scientific American, April 1998. [Online] [2000, May 8].

·         Voida, A., Mynatt, E. D., Erickson, T., and Kellogg, W. A. 2004. Interviewing over instant messaging. In CHI '04 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (Vienna, Austria, April 24 - 29, 2004). CHI '04. ACM, New York, NY, 1344-1347.

Past Runs of this Course

2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014