Saul Greenberg

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Basics in User Studies

Why should we study users? If we do study them, what methods are available? What are the particular strengths and weaknesses of any method? Part of the Basics of user studies is framing the answers to these questions.

Studies involving human participants also require ethical treatment of them. This is no casual process, even if you think your study is without any risk whatsoever. It is also not an option. All Universities, and most grant agencies and companies require the experimenter to submit a formal ethics application process, which is then reviewed by a committee. Complaints or non-compliance to that process is treated very seriously.

Powerpoint lectures

Topics Covered

  • Methodology overview
    • Why do we evaluate in HCI?
    • Why should we use different methods?
    • How can we compare methods?
    • What methods are there?
  • Ethics
    • The Millgram experiment
    • Why ethics?
    • Basic ethical treatment of participants
    • A typical ethics application process

Suggested Readings

  1. How to design usable systems. by Gould, J. In Readings in Human Computer Interaction: Towards the Year 2000 (2nd Edition). Baecker, R., Grudin, J., Buxton, W., and Greenberg, S. (1995). Morgan-Kaufmann.
    • a seminal introduction to design and usability testing and the many practical ways it can be done
  2. Methodology matters: Doing research in the behavioural and social sciences. McGrath, J. In R. Baecker, J. Grudin, W. Buxton and S. Greenberg (eds) Readings in Human Computer Interaction: Towards the Year 2000, p152-169, Morgan-Kaufmann. (1996).
    • This excellent paper discusses and compares fundamental concepts in evaluation methods. While you may initially find it a 'heavy' read, it is worth re-reading again as you become more familiar with particular methodologies. See also a summary provided by Stephanie Smale
  3. Evaluation Techniques. Chapter 11 in Dix, A., Finlay, J., Abowd, G., and Beale, R. Human Computer Interaction, 2nd Edition. Prentice Hall. pp. 363-400, (1998)
    • This useful overview chapter briefly surveys a variety of methodologies.
  4. Conjoint Faculties Research Ethics Board (CFREB) web site, University of Calgary
    • collects various resources about ethics requirements and the formal application process


  1. Ghostbusters, (Columbia Pictures) opening scene
    • This video is humorous spoof illustrating bad ethics. It may seem far-fetched, but it is actually a parody of the Millgram Experiment below.
  2. A Touch of Evil, Basic Instincts, ABC News
    • This video is a television report summarizing the Millgram experiments on obedience to authority.