Interviews involve interviewees who are asked a set of either structured or unstructured questions by an interviewer (Rogers et al., 2007). They are often, but not always, conducted with the interviewee and interviewer coming face-to-face and are usually synchronous. There are four main types of interviews, namely unstructured or open-ended; structured; semi-structured; and focused groups.
Unstructured interviews are exploratory, with no expectation on the content or format of the answers. It is useful for exploring the range of opinions of the participants. An advantage of this type of interview is that it enables the interviewer to gain a deep understanding of a topic where the data obtained is often complex and interrelated. The interviewees may also mention things that the interviewer hasn’t thought about. The disadvantage, however, is that the data gathered can take a lot of time to analyze, considering the amount of data gathered. Since no standard format is used, it can also be difficult to replicate the process.
In a structured interview, the interviewer asks the interviewee a predetermined set of questions, much like those asked in questionnaires. This type of interview is useful when the particular questions are identified and when there is a clear understanding of the goal. It uses closed questions, which has the benefit of being responded to quickly, especially since the range of answers is known. However, the disadvantage of this approach is that the interviewee is limited to the choices of answers presented to them and is unable to provide feedback beyond those choices.
Semi-structured interviews use both open and closed questions where the interviewer uses a basic script as a guide to ensure that the same topics are discussed with the interviewee. An advantage of this approach is that it allows the interviewer to probe deeper into a question where the interviewee can elaborate on their answer. Its disadvantage, however, is that, if the probing is not done properly, the interviewer might unintentionally suggest his or her own opinion to the interviewee, which may lead to some bias.
Focused groups or group interviews involve a group of interviewees and an interviewer who also serves as the facilitator. This type of interview is often used in social sciences research, political campaigns, and in marketing research. An advantage of this approach is that it allows sensitive or diverse issues to be brought up that may otherwise be missed. Although the questions posed are simple, the interviewees are able to voice out their opinions and provide the interviewer with more insight on the question being asked. Its disadvantage, on the other hand, is that some of the participants may be too dominating that the opinions of the others may not be heard as much.
Questionnaires consist of a set of questions that a respondent responds to in an asynchronous manner, that is, without the investigator present. The questionnaires may also be presented in an online or paper format. These are useful when gathering the respondents’ opinions or demographic data and can consist of either closed or open questions. An advantage to using questionnaires is that they enable the researcher to gather data on specific questions from a large group of people regardless of their geographical location. On the other hand, its disadvantage is that skills and more effort are required in ensuring that the questions are worded clearly and that the data gathered can be efficiently analyzed. Another disadvantage is that it will work only if the respondents are motivated to answer the questionnaire and don’t need further persuasion from the interviewer. In addition, this approach doesn’t have the benefit of having the interviewer explain any ambiguities in the questions.
Direct observation requires actually observing an activity while it happens. In interface design, it can help the designers obtain an understanding of the goals, tasks, and context of users. It can also later be used to investigate how well the application prototype supports the users’ goals and tasks.
Direct observations can be conducted either in the field or in a controlled environment. When conducted in the field, the participants are placed in a natural setting where their day-to-day tasks are observed. When conducted in a controlled environment, the participants are placed in a laboratory, which has a more formal character than the former.
An advantage of conducting a direct observation in the field is that it allows the researcher to obtain data that the participants find difficult to explain or which they failed to mention using other data gathering approaches. It also allows the researcher to gain context of the tasks being performed, which provides the researcher with an understanding “about why activities happen the way they do” (Rogers et al, p. 323). A direct observation in a controlled environment, on the other hand, allows the researcher to gather details about what the participants do. A disadvantage of direct observation is that it can be complicated and can result in a lot of irrelevant data if the data gathering process is not carefully planned and carried out. In addition, this approach doesn’t give the researcher an insight on what the participant is thinking and the researcher just merely relies on the participants’ actions.
Rogers, Y., Sharp, H., & Preece, J. (2007). Chapter 7: Data gathering. In Interaction
design: Beyond human-computer interaction (2nd ed.) (289-352). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons