Sunday, February 20, 2005
The standard method for listening to users is the talk-aloud protocol, getting a running commentary from the user on what she or he is doing. It's valuable when tied to observing a specific activity, but doesn't address past situations or outside events that can't be observed.
From the world of medical social research, which has vast experience in developing reliable information from interviews, comes a useful technique called "cognitive interviewing." The approach addresses the many biases that can creep into facilitators' questions and users' responses. Taken to heart, the approach offers a path for usability researchers to develop to a dialog with users, instead of making lab rats out of them. Gordon Willis, a pioneer in the technique, will shortly publish a book on the topic. For a preview of the approach, consult his cognitive interviewing "how to" guide (pdf).