HCI Research


HCI(Human-center interaction ) Research:

Human-computer interaction (HCI) is an area of research and practice that emerged in the early 1980s, initially as a specialty area in computer science embracing cognitive science and human factors engineering.

However, the continuing synthesis of disparate conceptions and approaches to science and practice in HCI has produced a dramatic example of how different epistemologies and paradigms can be reconciled and integrated in a vibrant and productive intellectual project.There are a number of methods can be applied when conduct a HCI project.  As one of the most highly mentioned is User Experience and research techniques are covered such as research planing, interviewing, focus group, usability test, surveys, analysing qualitative data, communicating results.  While in term of the purpose of the HCI study, some steps as the following will be presented.

Like scenarios of usability test:

1) Identify the main target audience and their task

2) Build up the task for the object

3) Look out for the appropriate audiences

4) Observe the process how people complete the task.

The workflow is like based on user-task centre see the figure.1, which is stated from  Carroll,J.M[1]


Figure1.Roles of a scenario in system development


A: Planning a Usability Test:

The purpose of the plan is to document what you are going to do, how you are going to conduct the test, what metrics you are going to capture, number of participants you are going to test, and what scenarios you will use.

Element of the project plan: You will need to include these elements in the usability test plan.

  • Scope:  Indicate what you are testing: Give the name of the Web site, Web application, or other product. Specify how much of the product the test will cover (e.g. the prototype as of a specific date; the navigation; navigation and content).
  • Purpose:  Identify the concerns, questions, and goals for this test. These can be quite broad; for example, “Can users navigate to important information from the prototype’s home page?” They can be quite specific; for example, “Will users easily find the search box in its present location?” In each round of testing, you will probably have several general and several specific concerns to focus on. Your concerns should drive the scenarios you choose for the usability test.
  • Schedule & Location:  Indicate when and where you will do the test. If you have the schedule set, you may want to be specific about how many sessions you will hold in a day and exactly what times the sessions will be.
  • Sessions:  You will want to describe the sessions, the length of the sessions (typically one hour to 90 minutes). When scheduling participants, remember to leave time, usually 30 minutes, between session to reset the environment, to briefly review the session with observer(s) and to allow a cushion for sessions that might end a little late or participants who might arrive a little late
  • Equipment:  Indicate the type of equipment you will be using in the test; desktop, laptop, mobile/Smartphone. If pertinent, include information about the monitor size and resolution, operating system, browser etc. Also indicate if you are planning on recording or audio taping the test sessions or using any special usability testing and/or accessibility tools.
  • Participants:  Indicate the number and types of participants to be tested you will be recruiting. Describe how these participants were or will be recruited and consider including the screen as part of the appendix.
  • Scenarios: Indicate the number and types of tasks included in testing. Typically, for a 60 min. test, you should end up with approximately 10 (+/-2) scenarios for desktop or laptop testing and 8 (+/- 2) scenarios for a mobile/smartphone test. You may want to include more in the test plan so the team can choose the appropriate tasks.
  • Metrics:  Subjective metrics: Include the questions you are going to ask the participants prior to the sessions (e.g., background questionnaire), after each task scenario is completed (ease and satisfaction questions about the task), and overall ease, satisfaction and likelihood to use/recommend questions when the sessions is completed.
  • Quantitative metrics: Indicate the quantitative data you will be measuring in your test (e.g., successful completion rates, error rates, time on task).
  • Roles:  Include a list of the staff who will participate in the usability testing and what role each will play. The usability specialist should be the facilitator of the sessions. The usability team may also provide the primary note-taker. Other team members should be expected to participate as observers and, perhaps, as note-takers.


B:Identifying Test Metrics 

There are several metrics that you may want to collect during the course of testing.

  • Successful Task Completion:  Each scenario requires the participant to obtain specific data that would be used in a typical task. The scenario is successfully completed when the participant indicates they have found the answer or completed the task goal.  In some cases, you may want give participants multiple-choice questions. Remember to include the questions and answers in the test plan and provide them to note-takers and observers.
  • Critical Errors:  Critical errors are deviations at completion from the targets of the scenario. For example, reporting the wrong data value due to the participant’s workflow. Essentially the participant will not be able to finish the task. Participant may or may not be aware that the task goal is incorrect or incomplete.
  • Non-Critical Errors:  Non-critical errors are errors that are recovered by the participant and do not result in the participant’s ability to successfully complete the task. These errors result in the task being completed less efficiently. For example, exploratory behaviors such as opening the wrong navigation menu item or using a control incorrectly are non-critical errors.
  • Error-Free Rate:  Error-free rate is the percentage of test participants who complete the task without any errors (critical or non-critical errors).
  • Time On Task:  The amount of time it takes the participant to complete the task.
  • Subjective Measures:  These evaluations are self-reported participant ratings for satisfaction, ease of use, ease of finding information, etc where participants rate the measure on a 5 to 7-point Likert scale.
  • Likes, Dislikes and Recommendations:  Participants provide what they liked most about the site, what they liked least about the site, and recommendations for improving the site.



[1] Carroll, J. M. (2000). Making use: scenario-based design of human-computer interactions, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

[2] http://www.usability.gov/how-to-and-tools/methods/index.html



Other ethnographic techniques

Ethnographic research is not only carried out means of participant observation and  interviewing( structured & unstructured). Some techniques are available for gathering insights into people’s world view and social relationships, and some will be briefly described.


A case-study can be carried out by using almost any methods of research and design thinking to prototype the framework of the research.

A case-study involves the in-depth study of a single example of whatever it is that the sociologist wishes to investigate. This could be an individual, a group, an event or an institution. Also in term of the researcher, who can be an individual or multidiscipline team members as well.

A case-study may prompt further, more wide-ranging research, providing ideas to be followed up later, or it may be that some broad generalization is brought to life by a case-study.

In a sense, ethnographic study is a case-study,since all such research concentrates on a relatively small group, a single institution of the service design.

The life-history (Life-story)

A type of case-study in which the intention is to interpret a person’s life using a variety of ethnographical techniques. The sociologist aims to construct the personal narrative of an individual who may be selected because he or she is remarkable in his or her own right (e.g. as an influence, in some way, on some aspect of social life) or because he or she is seen as a typical remarkable of a marginalized or “invisible”social group. We can use life-history to collect family tree data that tracks social change across time, place and generations when you conduct a research that relevant to social historical phenomena case study.

Time budgeting

No matter what kind of a research the time budgeting is crucial to it. The subjects assist the researcher by observing and recording their own activities in regard to the timing, sequence, duration and location of activities and the people with whom the activities were performed. Time budgets are able to capture the relatively informal activities that make up a person’s day such as “napping” and casual encounters, the minutiae of a person’s day that cannot easily be uncovered by interview or questionnaire.

Community studies

As we have seen, ethnographic studies aim to describe the way of life of a society or group of people. Where that group is quite small, such as a street gang, the main method of data collection used will be participant observation, interviews. While some challenge faced to researchers. The first is gaining access to the community in question. Here may be the recruitment strategy needs to be learnt. In addition, the more complex the society being studied, the more specialist groups(researchers) it is going to have.

What the roles should researchers take on? In a large community such a marginal roles may be possible, but in a village or in a small community in a large town, it is essential that the researchers be placed in some way.


Mcneill,P., Chapman,S. (2005) Research methods, third edition published by Routledge.