Observation is a fundamental research skill which is used to record phenomenas in the study environment. It is an accurate method for understanding the user’s behavior, since what people perceive about their actions is not always reflected in what they actually do. Thus observing them while doing certain task without any manipulation in variables, helps the researcher to collect precise data. However, because of the time, expenses and resources that observation costs, it is less used. Observation is divided in two main categories:

  1. Structured observation which is used when the researcher is looking for data of a specific interaction, such as how many people enter the room with a smile on face in the morning. This method of observation costs less money and time.

  2. Semi-structured observation: it is often used when the researcher is not cleared about the final frame of the research in the earlier phase of the project. This casual observation lets us notice things that we are not expecting to discover. This category may take weeks or months of study for coming up with a concrete data. It is a good method of study when people are not willing to participate in a conversation.

Advantages: accurate for studying user behavior; reveals people’s elusive internal states that they might not be able to share.

Disadvantages: time consuming and expensive; hard to record and document.

Case Studies/Examples

Shostak, Marjorie, Nisa: The Life and Words of a Kung Woman
In this book we read about the life of Nisa through interviews. The writer( Marjorie Shostak), who is a Harvard anthropologist, carefully talks about the detail of her interaction with people and her environment while she is interviewing her.



Gillham, Bill. Observation Techniques: Structured to Unstructured. London: Continuum International Pub., 2008.

Martin, Bella, and Bruce M. Hanington. Universal Methods of Design 100 Ways to Research Complex Problems, Develop Innovative Ideas, and Design Effective Solutions. Digital ed. Beverly, MA: Rockport Publishers, 2012.

Boeijen, Annemiek Van. Delft Design Guide: Design Methods.