Discuss the role of field studies in evaluation
Field studies are usually conducted to determine how users adopt a prototype or product in their working and daily lives (Rogers et al, 2007). Unlike usability testing that is conducted in an orderly setting, field studies are conducted in a disorganized manner in that there is constant interruption and overlap in the activities. This more closely resembles the natural settings in which the user would interact with the product in their daily lives.
With this type of evaluation method or technique, it would be possible to obtain information about and evaluate how users interact, think about, and integrate the products into the settings where they would eventually use the products. This in turn allows the interface designer or product developer to gauge the product’s potential for success in the real world.
However, unlike tests that are conducted in a laboratory setting, a limitation with conducting field studies is that it does not allow for the testing of specific hypotheses on an interface nor does it allow for the user’s use of or reaction to the product to be gauged with the same precision as a laboratory test. As such, it becomes more difficult to determine the causes for the users’ behavior or the problems with the product’s usability. With field studies, qualitative descriptions and accounts of the users’ activities and behavior are obtained, and these become the bases for gauging the way that the users used the product and reacted to its design.
The duration of field studies can last from as short as a few minutes to as long as several years. Data collection is conducted through the collection of field notes, video, and audio data that aim to keep a record of the occurrences in the selected setting, as well as through paper-based or electronic diaries where participants can record data at certain points of the day such as when they encounter a problem while interacting with the product or while being at a particular location in the product, as well as when they get interrupted while performing an activity. Moreover, this method involves the collection of data based on the patterns and frequencies of certain daily activities, including social interactions such as face-to-face and phone conversations, as well as drinking and eating habits. Electronic diaries on cell phones or PDAs, for example, can be used to trigger participants to fill out dynamic forms and checklists or answer questions at particular intervals about such things as the number of conversations they’ve had in the past hour; their location; what they’re feeling; and what they’re doing at a particular time.
Some examples of actual field studies conducted in the past are the studies conducted by HutchWorld portal and Nokia. HutchWorld portal used the field studies technique to determine the impact of a hospital setting on the manner by which patients used the application (Rogers et al). Nokia, on the other hand, conducted field studies to determine the manner by which users from various cultural environments, such as Japan, make use of cell phones that are designed for Europeans (Rogers et al.). Still, other applications of field studies would include the exploration of the manners by which users integrate, use, and adapt to new technology to make it conform to their desires, needs, and way of living.
The results obtained from field studies are usually documented in the form of narratives, patterns, critical incidents, excerpts, and vignettes or through a conceptual framework that can be used as guidance for analysis. The latter allows for the explanation of data on a more general level with regards to social or cognitive processes, which include linguistic or conversational interactions and learning.
Rogers, Y., Sharp, H., & Preece, J. (2007). Chapter 14: Usability testing and field studies. In
Interaction design: Beyond human-computer interaction (2nd ed.) (644-683). Hoboken,
NJ: John Wiley & Sons