September 22, 2019

Interviews. The means to obtaining needed information for effective design.


The demolition of this bathroom was started with no client consultation. The contractor did not interview her clients to determine their needs or desires. Usability went from 100% to 0. Tiles were not selected, fixtures were not chosen and the project quickly went pear shaped. This could have been easily resolved by sitting with the clients, asking questions and setting expectations.


A focus group is unnecessary for renovating a residential bathroom but the need to obtain direct feedback from the client is essential.

Today's entry will focus a chapter from Research Methods in Human-Computer Interaction by Jonathan Lazar. and two papers:

  1. Bennet et. al. 2018: How Teens with Visual Impairments Take, Edit, and Share Photos on Social Media
  2. Shinohara and Wobbrock, 2011: In the shadow of misperception: assistive technology use and social interactions


Some salient points from chapter 8 of Lazar:

Interviews and Focus Groups

  • Direct discussions with concerned participants usually take one of two forms: interviews with individuals and focus groups involving multiple users at one time.
  • The ability to “go deep” is perhaps the strongest argument in favor of interviewing.
  • Interviews are much more difficult to conduct than surveys.
  • Higher effort requirements also limit interview-based studies to relatively small numbers of participants. The diversity of answers makes the data more difficult to analyze vs standardized surveys.
  • Additional techniques such as observation should also be used.
  • HCI researchers use interviews and focus groups to help build an understanding of the needs, practices, concerns, preferences, and attitudes of the people who might interact with a current or future computer system.
  • Ask exploratory questions.
  • Asking these broader questions in an interview or focus group can help you generate a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the problem.
  • Exploratory interviews share much in common with case studies and ethnography, as they are all intended to provide an understanding of a complex and multifaceted situation.

Requirements Gathering

As in any project gathering and understanding the requirements is essential.

  • Interviewing in search of requirements requires an appropriately broad and open-ended view of the possibilities.
  • A focus on narrow questions or existing tools might be too limiting.

Who do you interview?

  • When you are running usability studies, empirical tests, or observations, the question of participant selection starts from an obvious point: current or potential users of your proposed system or alternatives.
  • For investigations of broader concerns,such as system requirements or overall evaluation of system operation, a broader pool of interviewees drawn from all categories of stakeholders might be more informative.
  • A stakeholder is anyone who is affected by the use of a system.
  • Identify the key informants: individuals who are repeatedly called upon to provide important insights, usually over an extended period of time.
  • Fully structured interviews use a rigid script to present questions in a well-defined order. Although some questions may be skipped, based on answers to previous questions, there is no room for asking questions out of order or for adding questions not found in the predefined interview script.
  • Fully structured interviews also have the advantage of being relatively easy to analyze.
  • In a fully structured interview, you must follow the script.
  • Interviews can be structured, semistructured or unstructured.

Focused and contextual interviews: By asking interviewees to demonstrate how they solve a problem, instead of explaining how they do it, these interviews have the potential to illustrate aspects of the problem that might have been forgotten in a strictly verbal interview.

An affinity diagram can be useful to group individual observations into higher level categories.



  • Interviewing is a powerful, but labor-intensive, data collection technique. To gather input from 20 individuals, an interviewer must meet with each person individually, perhaps for an hour or more. An attractive alternative might be to meet with several participants in focus groups.
  • The conversations that can arise in a focus group can help overcome many of the shortcomings of interviews.
  • Interactive focus groups present researchers with several logistical and management challenges. As conversation takes time, focus groups might be limited to a relatively small number of questions—fewer than you would cover in comparable interviews. Conflicts may arise, particularly in focus groups involving controversial topics.
  • Focus groups may be inappropriate for addressing sensitive or controversial topics. Many participants may be reluctant to discuss deeply personal issues in a group setting. Controversial topics may lead to arguments and bitterness that could destroy the group's effectiveness.

Asking Questions:

As seemingly small differences in the phrasing and form of interview questions can lead to big differences in responses, you should pay careful attention to what you ask your interviewees and how you ask the questions.

Ask both open ended and close ended questions.

Other forms of interview “questions” are tasks or exercises that ask participants to provide useful information, without presenting a question as such. You might ask users to complete a sentence: “The task that I would most like to be able to complete with my word processor is….”

conceptual mapping: asking participants to draw pictures or graphical layouts that describe their understanding of a situation.

Your questions should be as unbiased and unjudgmental as possible. In particular, you should watch out for phrasing that might encourage your interviewee to give you the answer that they think you want to hear.

You should construct questions that are appropriate for your audience. If your audience consists of well-educated professionals—similar to many HCI researchers— language that you are comfortable with may work well for your participants. Interviews or focus groups with participants with substantively different backgrounds from those of the researcher pose additional challenges—you have to learn to “speak their language.”

Conducting an Interview and Recording the responses:

  • Pilot-testing your interview—both with research colleagues and participants—is always a good idea.
  • A clear and concise interview guide can help you remember which steps to take and when.
  • Simply writing down interviewee responses is likely to be most effective for simple, closed questions. Answers to open-ended questions and comments made in free-flowing unstructured interviews may be hard to capture adequately in writing.

From the start of the interview, you should strive to help your interviewees feel comfortable and at ease.

  • The first and most important rule is to remember that as the interviewer, your job is to listen.
  • Being adaptable and flexible is particularly important for semistructured or unstructured interviews. If you want to get the full benefits of ceding some control to your participants, you will have to be willing to go where they will lead you.
  • Terminology, also introduces possibilities for misunderstanding.


How Teens with Visual Impairments Take, Edit, and Share Photos on Social Media

People make the incorrect assumption that Visually Impaired People (VIP)are uninterested in photography. VIPs have demonstrated interested in taking photos and teaching other VIPs how to do so by publishing experiences and tutorials online.

Research on blind people and photography can broadly be divided into the use of photography to learn information about an environment, and into improving photo capture by VIPs.

Some applications provide feedback to VIP users on image composition as well as audio notes to allow users to non visually identify photographs.

Some third-party apps like Seeing AI assist with photo capture by narrating whether faces are visible and by reading text in the viewfinder.

Screen reader users posted and shared fewer photos than average. Selfies are a challenge.

Low vision users often have needs that are not met by traditional solutions.

Some apps misinterpret zoom functionality when used by VIPS.

Additionally, some participants became confused about which gesture to use while zooming with their phone’s software versus the app-based zoom feature.

Our findings help to upend misconceptions that visually impaired people are not interested in engaging with emerging photo-centric and ephemeral media. Instead, our VIP teens represent a user group that frequently edits and posts photos on these social media platforms, having similar motivations as more widely-studied sighted teen users. They frequently take photos, preferring not to ask for assistance. They make choices to project a socially-acceptable image while balancing their access needs with social norms surrounding Instagram and Snapchat.

An interesting way our participants applied filters was to see photos better. While filters have thus far been designed into camera apps and social media sites to enhance photos for sharing, similar enhancements could be made available to visually impaired users to temporarily apply to photos posted by others for easier viewing.

One of the biggest challenges for our participants was viewing ephemeral content. We first especially recommend building accessibility features into social media, since toggling on smartphone-based accessibility software meant participants sometimes lost access to content before even seeing it.


In the Shadow of Misperception: Assistive Technology Use and Social Interactions

  • We found that specific assistive devices sometimes marked their users as having disabilities; that functional access took priority over feeling self-conscious when using assistive technologies; and that two misperceptions pervaded assistive technology use: (1) that assistive devices could functionally eliminate a disability, and (2) that people with disabilities would be helpless without their devices.
  • As researchers who do not have disabilities, we believe it is important to endeavor to understand social and cultural issues of disability rights, and how these affect assistive technology adoption and use.
  • Stigma needs to be eliminated: If assistive devices mark users as ―other,‖ this may create social barriers to access even while such devices should help overcome them.
  • Elements contributing to stigmatization included aesthetics, gender and age, social acceptability and deference of rehabilitation professionals.
  • Two of the three participants with low-vision reported they could pass as non-disabled if they were not using their devices.
  • In contrast to avoidance, some participants purposefully chose to call attention to their disability, usually for safety reasons, through the use of their devices.
  • When using their devices, participants negotiated feeling self-conscious with the desire to be independent and the need to be productive, especially at work.
  • Participants reported assistive technologies lagged behind current technical standards, meaning they did not truly have access like everyone else.
  • Assistive technology is quite expensive.
  • Participants reported that strangers offered unwanted help, grabbing, pushing or pulling blind participants, assuming they knew where the participant was headed. People over-articulated or spoke loudly, trying to compensate for deaf participants’ hearing loss.
  • People have misconceptions about he capabilities of assistive technologies and incorrectly assume greater capability.
  • Some assistive technologies have proprietary software that is incompatible with standard devices.
  • We found two common misperceptions of assistive technologies: (1) that assistive technologies functionally eliminate a disability, and (2) the presence of assistive technologies mean that people with disabilities are helpless without assistive technologies.


My Interview:

  • What are your hobbies:
    • Photography (dormant related to my cellphone now)
    • Listening to music
    • Jazz Saxophone and Clarinet (inactive)
    • Cycling
  • Wow? Do you cycle often?
    • Not as much as I would like
  • How long are your rides?
    • I try to do 30 to 40 miles/day 6 days/week. Been pretty lazy recently.
  • Wow!!! That is extreme isn't it?
    • No. I know a guy who rides every morning and logs 50+ in 2 hours.
  • He must be a professional.
    • No. Genetically gifted
  • Do you wear special cycling clothing?
    • Yes. But you really can't wear anything else when you do more than a 5 mile ride. The saddle would be very uncomfortable without padded shorts.
  • Do you wear those funny shoes?
    • Yes. They are essential. They allow you to pull one leg up while the other is pushing down
  • What got you into cycling.
    • My parents were uninterested in having to replace my glasses that alway got broken in contact sport. Saw a picture or Laurent Fignon and caught the cycling bug?
  • Who is that?
    • A French cyclist who won the Tour de France twice. He wore glasses, I was young and easily influenced.