The interview is a method for discovering facts and opinions
held by potential users of the system being designed. It is
usually done by one interviewer speaking to one informant
at a time. Reports of interviews have to be carefully analysed
and targeted to ensure they make their impact. Otherwise the
effort is wasted.
Because of the one-to-one nature of the interview, what is
talked about can address directly the informant's individual
concerns. Mistakes and misunderstandings can be quickly identified
and cleared up.
Consider the information you require, and prepare an 'interview
schedule'. This is a set of topics that you need to obtain
that information. Decide on the order in which you will cover
the topics. For each topic, ensure that you have an 'askable
prompt' (how you will ask for the information you need) and
an explanation of each topic (in case the informant does not
understand the 'askable prompt'). If you want to do a highly
structured interview, each topic will be broken down into
a series of sub-topics, each with their own 'askable prompt'.
The ideal interview situation is composed of an interviewer
and a respondent. Several respondents may be interviewed simultaneously.
If there is more than one interviewer, there should be one
principal interviewer or chairperson. There should never be
more interviewers than there are respondents.
Decide how you will record the informant's responses. In
order of preference, these are: your memory, concurrent written
notes by yourself, tape recorder, video.
Decide how you will present the interview results (make an
indicative table of contents), and check with the intended
audience that this is useful for them.
Do at least one trial run of the interview. Make sure you
know the interview schedule extremely well (by preference,
commit to memory.)
There are typically four phases in the interview:
- The "nurturing" phase. This is the initial warm-up to
the interview when the parties to the interview introduce
themselves and talk briefly about neutral topics to establish
- The "energising" phase. Here the area of discourse, and
any existing problems are identified.
- The "body" of the interview. This is the peak phase of
activity, where the interviewer is continually probing,
bringing out the 'askable prompts' in the predetermined
order to understand the range of responses the respondents
produce. It is important at this stage for the interviewer
to remain analytical and neutral. If the interview is fairly
free in structure, the respondent may direct the order of
topics, and the interviewer should follow them. Otherwise
the order of topics is at the interviewer's discretion.
Before this phase ends, the interviewer should check whether
all the topics have indeed been covered.
- The "closing" phase. The interviewer should summarise
what he has learnt from the interview, and ask the informant
whether this is correct. The informant should be asked whether
they thought the interview covered all the areas of concern,
and whether there were issues which had not been touched
upon. It is a good idea to spend a little time on how the
informant felt about doing the interview, and whether there
was anything that could be improved.
The biggest danger in using interviews as methods of data
gathering is the unstructured nature of the resulting data,
which is extremely easily mis-interpreted or censored.
The primary method of analysis that helps guard against censoring
information that is difficult to handle or unexpected is to
break up the text or notes from each informant into a set
of simple propositions, using the informant's own words as
much as possible. These propositions can then become the input
to a content analysis activity.
The analysis should fit into the indicative table of contents
agreed beforehand with your target audience. Notes and transcripts
etc. may be contained in an appendix or appended CDs/ diskettes/
Preece, J., Rogers, Y., Sharp, H., Benyon, D., Holland, S.
& Carey, T. (1994). Human-Computer Interaction. Reading
Macaulay, L.A. (1996). Requirements Engineering. Berlin:
Springer Verlag Series on Applied Computing.
Other methods of collecting information from users include
observation of users, or
user participation in context
of use analysis, focus
groups or brainstorming.
When the interviews are over and the report has been written,
ensure that the report makes its way to those people who will
be most affected by it, and that it has been read. Follow
up the initial report distribution within a week or so to
ask if there are any questions or if any explanation is needed.
Interviews are sometimes used as methods for generating information
for running a focus
group or setting up a survey questionnaire
that will be distributed to many people. However, they may
sometimes be used as a direct input to design, so that the
next activity to be carried out is either a card
sort / affinity
meeting or a paper
Lindgaard, G. 1994. Usability Testing and system evaluation.
Chapman and Hall.
Blomberg, J., Giacomi, J., Mosher, A. & Swenton-Hall,
P. (1993) Ethnographic field methods and their relation to
design. In: Schuler, D. & Namioka, A. (eds.) Participatory
Design: Principles & Practices. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Fowler, FJ (Jr), Mangione, TW (1990) Standardised Survey
Interviewing. Sage Publications, Newbury Park.