Task Analysis and Contextual Inquiry

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Discussion Questions

The paper argues for the "master-apprentice" model during interviews. It also describes other relationships (like interviewer/interviewee) that interviews can fall into. What are potential disadvantages of the master-apprentice model? And conversely, what are potential advantages of other interview models?


Sally Ahn - 2/1/2010 17:41:01

The master/apprentice model described in the reading focuses on uncovering the details of a customer's work methods by having them perform the work rather than describe it. They stress the importance of having the customer perform the work, because "when the work's right there, the details, even details people do not normally pay attention to, are available for study and inquiry." Likewise, other relationship models fail to uphold this advantage in collecting data, and the reading stresses the importance of the interviewer recognizing when the relationship starts to slip into these forms (interviewer/interviewee, expert/novice, guest/host) because "playing one side tends to pull the other person into playing the other side." The concluding remark, "running a good interview is less about following specific rules than it is about being a certain kind of person for the duration of the interview" emphasizes the importance of maintaining the proper relationship model in order to obtain all the details relevant to understanding how people work.


Wei Wu - 2/1/2010 21:43:38

This reading gives insight into why this class has emphasized choosing user groups that are not just "students," or something we are already acquainted with. Contextual inquiry is a process that requires the designer to approach his task without any prior assumptions or biases that he may have about the subject. It is about observing and interacting with the target customer to fully understand his needs.

Given this, a designer should ideally approach a task with which he has little familiarity and preferences. Then, there is a genuine motivation to learn, a blank slate on which to acquire information, and no fear in asking questions. His job is to apply the knowledge he has about how technology can help everyday activities to fresh tasks. Coming from an assumptionless perspective gives way to more innovative ideas, which is what we are trying to achieve in this class. If we focus on designing interfaces of students, it is easy for us let our personal idiosyncrasies affect our design.


Daniel Nguyen - 2/1/2010 22:56:37

A potential problem with the master/apprentice model that is not addressed in the reading is the sole focus on daily activities during the design process. This focus can ignores vital topics such as the ease of solving potential problems, that may not necessarily come up in everyday activities. It is not guaranteed that every topic will come up in the master/apprentice model, depending on what events occur during the time the two spend together and the level of skill of the master. For this, I feel that more of an interviewer/interviewee model would be more effective, because the designer would come prepared to expose potential issues and how they can be solved.


Alexander Sydell - 2/2/2010 0:47:37

One disadvantage of the master/apprentice model is that the interview likely takes much longer than one in an interviewer/interviewee model, as the designer must spend time with the client while the client performs routine tasks. The chapter suggests 2-3 hours, whereas a conventional interview is often much shorter. Also, a designer acting as an apprentice would gather an inordinate amount of data as he is following the client's every move and taking notes. More minute details will be taken down than would be in a different model, which creates much more information for the design team to sift through later while making their decisions.

As an alternative, the interviewer/interviewee model does not have these problems. A short interview will take less time and gather less details which leaves more time for designing. However, the downfall of this model is that the interview could leave designers with an incomplete or even incorrect picture of the client's needs because, as the chapter demonstrates, it is often difficult for people to remember exactly what they do when they are not in the moment.


Vidya Ramesh - 2/2/2010 16:34:17

The paper describes developing a relationship between the interviewer and the interviewee that is akin to a master-apprentice relationship mixed in with a more personable relationship. While the idea is communicated quite effective, I feel that the type of relationship this chapter is encouraging is not well described by a master-apprentice relationship. Rather, a more beneficial relationship model is one of symbiotic relationship between the two people involved. The interviewer has an obligation to gather information while interviewee can see this as an opportunity not only to educate another about their work, but also explain and elucidate someone in a position of power about problems they might be facing. This closer, more personal relationship compared to the master-apprentice relationship will allow the interviewee to get over social rules about complaining or embarrassment towards showing ignorance. The interviewer can also do their part in encouraging truthfulness in their interviewees by stressing not only the importance of the integrity of the responses, but by also framing the interview in a more professional, but personal context. The article mentioned this while defining the structure of a contextual interview and stating that it is important to start the interview in a more traditional manner in order to place the interviewee at ease as well as remind the interviewee about good social conduct during the interview.


Jason Wu - 2/2/2010 17:53:51

Beyer and Holtzblatt did a good job of explaining the merits of using the master-apprentice model in contextual inquiry interviews, but they glossed over some of the model's drawbacks, one of which is time. To conduct an interview using this model, the designer must observe a customer performing tasks for at least several hours (2 or 3 according to the authors). While less comprehensive, the interviewer/interviewee model can potentially save both the designer and the customer a great deal of time, since the designer can ask very specific and focused questions relevant to the design problem at hand rather than waiting for the customer to perform a task that illustrates a flaw in the current design. Also, customers may be more comfortable with a question and answer interview session than having someone look over their shoulder for hours, and they may not appreciate having a designer constantly probing them about their work. Another possible problem with the master-apprentice model is that it requires the designer to interpret the facts gained from the inquiry and come up with solutions, whereas in the interviewer/interviewee model, the designer can ask questions that elicit solution ideas from the customer, ideas that the designer may never have considered otherwise.


Victoria Chiu - 2/2/2010 20:19:32

While interpolating the dialog, the interviewer might mislead the customer, especially if it is about an event in the past. It is good to ask detailed questions because the customers can correct the interviewer's phrasing if the question does not describe the situation well. But when prompting a very specific question about an event in the past, is it possible to make the customers "think" that was what they did? There are psychology experiments about altering people's memory by confronting people the same question several times, and in the end, people admit things that they have never done. If the customers already have a vague impression of some events in the back, is it possible that prompting specific questions can lead them think that they did what the interviewer describes?

In the expert/novice model while customers are seeking solutions from the interviewer, the interviewer can realize what kind of problems that the customers are encountering, and what has prevented them from reaching the solutions. And in the interviewer/interviewee model, the interviewer can get questions answered if the question did not come up during the workflow. This can also reduce the questions missed if the related functions of the system was not used during the workflow.


Vinson Chuong - 2/2/2010 21:15:18

As discussed in the reading, contextual inquiry is an effective way to obtain real-world data on what tasks users do and how they do them. However, I believe that this type of interview is only one part of an effective user study.

The reading stated the goal of avoiding the abstract and extracting the details. I believe that getting the user's overall abstract view of his work is just as important as the details related to his work. The user may have opinions about how his work-flow can be improved or how technology can assist him but may refrain from expressing them due to the focus on the established routine. Motivating the user to propose possible design ideas may yield more insight than simply asking for responses to ideas that the designer thinks is relevant.


Daniel Ritchie - 2/2/2010 21:19:31

(Interesting fact: I didn't read the "discussion question" before formulating this response, but I ended up addressing it anyway!)

I'm not convinced that the Master/Apprentice Model is the universally correct relationship system for contextual inquiry. The authors provide ample evidence in support of its effectiveness for inquiries involving a "customer" who could use the designer's product to do their work better. Not all potential users of a new system fit this bill, though. Consider a designer tasked with creating some educational software. She can't really conduct a master/apprentice contextual interview with a potential user because that user, by definition, doesn't yet how to do the task that the software will train him to do! An interview with an "master" of this task could prove equally unhelpful, as experts often work in ways that are unintuitive for newcomers (the target user group).

In a situation like this, I can imagine a 3-person interview--a hybrid between the master/apprentice and student/teacher models--working well. The designer sits in on a session in which an expert in the task coaches a newcomer through some introductory exercises. The newcomer is the "student," the designer is the "apprentice," and the expert serves the dual roles of "master" and "teacher." Ideally, the designer could pick up on common errors as the expert points them out. She could interrupt either of the other participants at any time for clarification, but I imagine that the she would generally be more passive than in a standard master/apprentice interview. Finally, given a model such as this, I think that one such interview is highly unlikely to provide enough information: the designer would need to conduct several in order to get a feel for the various learning styles that her product needs to support and the various teaching styles that it may employ to do so.


Matt Vaznaian - 2/2/2010 22:07:34

I think that one disadvantage of the master/apprentice model is that it is not natural. The idea is to exhibit one's actions and behaviors during their work, trying to capture what they do in their natural environment. I know that if someone followed me around all day I would have a hard time staying focused on my usual work routine. I don't particularly find the interview/interviewee model to be very effective. I think that an advantage to using the expert/novice model is that the novice customer gets to learn about the system creators intentions. I don't think you can always expect software or systems to be perfectly intuitive and by answering a few questions the expert can put the novice in a position to use the product in the future as it was intended. I think that being too nosy, especially right off the bat, can make the customer feel uncomfortable. By acting as the guest (as in the guest/host model) you can allow the customer to decide his own level of comfort with you, rather than forcing on them where you think your relationship should be at. This I feel will result in a most comfortable and natural working environment.


David Zeng - 2/2/2010 22:16:01

While the apprentice/master model has many benefits, I feel like it can suffer from the exact opposite problem that the expert/novice relationship has. As the interviewer makes it clear to the customer that he is learning, then the customer may have a sense that he is in charge. At the same time, he may dismiss questions as irrelevant or even stupid, making it harder for the interviewer to get the background behind the customer's actions. In the worst case, the customer may feel frustrated at the interviewer's lack of knowledge. I feel that if this were to happen, then the interviewer needs to reset the boundaries of the inquiry. This problem can be addressed as long as the interviewer makes sure that the relationship is actually a partnership in which both sides are equal.


Calvin Lin - 2/2/2010 22:39:13

The “master-apprentice” model makes a lot of sense and I agree with much of their reasoning as to why this is a preferable model, but there were a couple important factors that I felt like Beyer & Holtzblatt brushed over.

The authors encourage the interviewer to engage in active watching and ask questions while the customer is doing his work in order to find details and motivations behind everything. However, what they don’t take into consideration is how the whole situation may affect the customer and possibly disrupt his/her normal work flow. Just from personal experience, if I had someone hovering over my shoulder watching my every step, it would certainly be a distraction. Perhaps it might not affect everyone, but it would not be safe to assume that as an interviewer, you are witnessing a worker operate in his/her normal environment and comfort zone. Furthermore, constantly interrupting someone from their focus and normal flow of doing things such as how they move from task to task can certainly affect the ability to work at one’s best potential. One idea I would suggest is videotaping someone working without being there yourself, and then going back and asking the worker about your observations. This would still hit on many of the advantages of the master-apprentice model, such as providing the interviewee with visual cues to stir memory. I felt that the authors assumed the whole process would not disrupt a worker from doing things as he/she normally does, especially because they encourage lots of interrupting and asking of questions.


Angela Juang - 2/2/2010 22:52:48

While the master/apprentice positions seem helpful and many good points supporting it are presented in this paper, I think it would also be possible for this model to have negative effects. When trying to learn a new skill or idea, I feel that people often put themselves into "receiving mode" and try to absorb as much of the behaviors they are observing as possible without thinking critically about them. It's important to have a good sense of what you are designing an application for, but taking on an attitude of trying to learn how to perform the job may lead you to following and accepting the way things are currently done instead of trying to think outside the box and find creative ways of improving those behaviors. Even if current behaviors can be extended or improved on, having an image of how things have been done previously can cause designers to unconsciously limit their creativity to ideas centered around what they've learned or seen already. An interesting approach to design might be to present designers with a description or illustration of the problem, and first allow them to brainstorm and build on ideas without learning how the jobs are already being performed. A master/apprentice phase after this could then alert the designers to details they hadn't thought of before. Finally, another free design phase would allow designers to take into account newly learned information about current problems and behaviors, but would be less likely to limit creativity because they had already thought of possible inventive solutions before learning anything about the current state of the problem.


Jeffrey Doker - 2/2/2010 23:12:29

My main challenges to the master/apprentice model deal with masters who don't adhere to the model that the paper describes, as well as warnings against apprentices who aren't good communicators.

With regard to the "masters," the paper describes clients as being unaware of their routine work habits, however some eccentric or OCD workers are actually quite aware and deliberate in even the tiniest details of the way they work, and are proud to tell you about it. How do you critique clients' beloved behavior when their own "efficient" way of doing things differs from your professional diagnosis?

Also, how do you handle clients who require uninterrupted concentration in order to get their work flow going? The withdrawal and return strategy for verbal observation or clarification works well with most clients, but how should the interviewer modify their technique if the interruptions actually stunt or damage the client's natural work flow?

From the apprentice side, I think the interviewer should be careful when playing dumb not to play too dumb. The article urges the interviewer to come in with a blank slate, but if you act too ignorant as the interviewer the client may either get offended by your disingenuousness or water down his or her responses to meet your seemingly low intellect.

Finally, the interviewer should be careful about translating a client's response of "Huh?" or "Um...could be" into a definite "No." It is possible that the you have the right interpretation of the client's behavior, but you just didn't phrase it articulately enough for the client to understand what you meant. Basically, I take from this that a requirement of being a good apprentice is being a lucid communicator.


Annette Trujillo - 2/2/2010 23:20:35

An advantage that the master-apprentice model has over the other interview models is that the other interview models are more likely to fall into the interviewer/interviewee relationship model. In the master-apprentice model, the apprentice is more focused on observing than on asking questions, and they are less likely to start asking short-answer questions, compared to an interviewer who is more prone to these questions. A disadvantage of the master-apprentice model is that the customer is considered the master and should think of himself as the master, but if your customer is not too great at what he is doing and ends up needing a lot of help from the apprentice, the person that created the software (lets say), then this can cause the apprentice to lose focus on his goal.


Tomomasa Terazaki - 2/2/2010 23:54:36

This chapter was about how to interview correctly or how to experiment with a person one has never met before in order to find the poor parts of the program. The four principles of having a successful interview were context, partnership, interpretation, and focus. Context is the situation, so it is as close as the real life. Partnership is how the interviewer and interviewee communicated. Interpretation means that the interviewer has to look carefully at what the interviewee does in order the find the weakness in its project. Focus just means what the person is focusing. The reading said that the master-apprentice model was the best model because the apprentice just learns by watching his/her master, but I think this is not always true. Since master has his/her own way that was created through experience, maybe there is actually a better way for the apprentice to do it but it will be difficult for the apprentice to notice that since he has learn by example. I personally do not like the interview model since it is so formal that the interviewee will probably not act natural. However, the advantage is that the interviewer can ask a question towards the interviewee at anytime and get what he/she is thinking about at that moment.


Boaz Avital - 2/3/2010 0:52:02

I can see the benefits of contextual inquiry and agree that if done appropriately it can be one of the best ways to get information from your customer. I do have some worry about it, mainly because the process depends almost entirely on one person. If this person happens to be incompetent in some respects or in anyway does things differently than most others, you're going to get skewed data. I'ts important to interview the customer that is proficient at the job you are observing. Another issue can be the length of time it takes to get good information. Of course it depends on what you're designing and way, and yes I agree that in context you'll get the best information, but people at their jobs often have a lot of overhead and unrelated activities to do. How long will it be before you get to the part of the job you're interested in designing something for? Is the 2-3 hours the books says enough to get sufficient information?


Bryan Trinh - 2/3/2010 0:55:21

The master-apprenticeship model frames the mind of the interviewer to best accept information for what it is. It allows her to see objectively, clearly, and with greater breadth. Most importantly this model primes the interviewer to refrain from injecting her own thoughts, feelings, and stereotypes into the interpretation of actions of the interviewee.

I think that this method also has its flaws though. Even if the interviewee puts an honest effort not to effect the interviewers feelings and answers through the constant prodding, it is impossible. The presence of the interviewer will inevitably change the actions of the interviewee. This is especially dangerous when the interviewer questions the interviewees logic system by asking successive questions about the same event. This form of interaction allows the interviewee to strive for consistency among attitudes, thoughts and beliefs. This cognitive dissonance coupled with a chance to correct or respond, results in increased consistensy that might not have existed. Despite what some economists say people do not act logically, we can be extremely inconsistent.


Hugh Oh - 2/3/2010 0:56:01

A large disadvantage of the master-apprentice model is putting so much emphasis on the apprentice. The whole purpose of any model is to maximize learning; however, the potential to learn is limited by the apprentice. If the master is showing by example, there might be details that are being missed because of the inexperience of the apprentice. Master-apprentice is good for general understanding but lacks a more in depth knowledge of what is being shown.

Concrete vs. abstract data tries to solve this problem of generality. By making the customer refer to real life experiences, we can uncover details that would otherwise be lost in the abstract or master-apprentice model. Details can mean a world of difference but people have been trained to summarize and skip details. Models that emphasize details while still keeping some degree of generality should be the goal of any good model (i.e. concrete data model).


Linsey Hansen - 2/3/2010 0:56:05

So, while the whole master-apprentice/partnership approach does seem like a great way to learn about information, there were certain parts that I found rather questionable. I kinda felt like the whole "retrospective process" looked rather difficult, and while I guess knowing what to ask will become easier over time, it still just seems imperfect, and I could almost see the customer getting annoyed if the designer were to question *everything* they say- at least asking for an explanation of the customer's actions seems more natural. Also, the verifying your interpretation process looks prone to a lot of error, even if done while the customer is in the middle of their routine, since a lot of people are just willing to please, and might not want to reject your interpretation outright. While the lack of "sparkle" in th customer's eyes might give them away, that would then leave the interviewer in the position of either a) calling them out or b) coaxing them to reveal the correct interpretation, while in the meantime the customer's routine has probably been thrown off. I suppose most of my criticisms have to do with slight imperfections, which can be found in any methods, though I fee like these could be fixable.


Mohsen Rezaei - 2/3/2010 1:11:47

I believe that in an interview a designer should be allowed to think about the design and think in advance about what he/she will make after the interview with the customer is over, but not be allowed to start mocking-up the design while being at the customer's work place and at the interview. I think that video recording the customers actions would be the best in the case of interviewing a customer for a design prototype. If designer is mocking-up and, as one would say, listening to the customer at the same time, it is highly possible that the interviewer/apprentice would miss important points that the customer points out. I think becoming like a friend to the customer or the "craftsman" is a key to learning what the customer/craftsman really wants from a design or a program to be made. We could introduce a friendship, as mentioned, by grabbing a coffee with the customer or doing things like that. Having more than one interview with the customer would be another approach since most people feel too formal and uncomfortable in the first meeting.


Raymond Lee - 2/3/2010 1:29:35

A potential disadvantage of the master-apprentice model is the one-sidedness of the interaction. The master-customer controls the flow of information, and the interviewer is stuck only asking clarifying questions.

The potential advantages of other interview models involve more control on the part of the designer, who might have very specific questions that might go unanswered under a master-apprentice model. "Partnership" strikes the best balance in regard to who is maneuvering the inquiry.


Charlie Hsu - 2/3/2010 1:46:09

I felt the Contextual Inquiry reading was well organized and engaging. One strong theme I saw in the contextual interview procedure was the necessity of open communication. Relationship models such as guest/host, expert/novice, and interviewer/interviewee provide social blocks to truly open communication; conforming to etiquette may hide some constructive feedback enabled by the different points of view of the designer and "master" of a profession the designer is studying. In fact, I feel that technical job interviews these days are attempting to emulate this sort of interview, giving the candidate an opportunity to perform work under the eye of an evaluator, constantly explaining the work as he/she does it.

I feel that interpretation and focus, as explained in the reading, can be encompassed under the big umbrella of "open communication." It seemed like the explanations for those two were fundamentals for anyone trying to learn something; keeping an open mind and reading people beyond simply their words are important things to keep in mind while learning.

But the explanation of "partnership" most interested me. The "master" surely has a lot to teach the designer, but I thought the idea of the designer actively proposing new implementations of aids to the profession and receiving immediate feedback from an expert would be a highly effective method of mutual learning.


Jessica Cen - 2/3/2010 1:46:24

One disadvantage of the master-apprentice model is that sometimes the apprentice would like to know about a specific action that the master rarely practices. This is a disadvantage because the master may not encounter the opportunity to show it to the apprentice and so he is limited to only talking about it. The master-apprentice model can also be a little hard to the master because he has to talk about work while doing it. This may cause distractions and would lead to unusual behavior. In addition, since the master knows he is being watched, he might not be totally honest and would do things that he normally wouldn’t. For example, the customer that uses the box for spacing may not always use this method and the observer may not know that. It is likely that the customer may sometimes feel like he doesn’t need the box and may think that he can do a perfect spacing without it. And the apprentice doesn’t know how frequently the customer feels like that. The master-apprentice model is limited since the master can withhold important information. The apprentice must not assume that the master’s behavior is always consistent. The apprentice must also be aware that the master may use different solutions for the same problem and it is also important to know how frequent each solution is used.


Richard Lan - 2/3/2010 2:37:49

The benefit of taking the master/apprentice approach is that it makes the observation very natural. The subject is in their “natural environment” and functions as they would everyday. In addition, it allows the observer to notice vivid details about a person’s behavior when they engage in an activity. Fundamentally, it reveals the patterns and structure in the way we do things that we might not consciously recognize, due to our conditioning and repetition of the work. It is a highly interactive design process that allows the developer to receive verbal feedback while seeking visual clues to determine the user’s experience.

The main problem that I see with the master/apprentice approach is that it is potentially time-consuming and may not produce correct answers for the developer. Based on the way the data is interpreted, the inquirer may need to hold more observation and discussion sessions in order to arrive at a correct conclusion. Good observations do not necessarily mean that the data will be interpreted directly. Developers may need to gather more information before making a decision about a system’s functionality or design.

On the other hand, this method is probably the best way to collect information for designing a user interface because it allows the developers to see the motions that people go through when faced with a particular situation. I thought the reading was particularly interesting because of its unique take on relationships between the observer and the observed in contextual inquiries. In addition, it established some aspects of human behavior that are important to consider when one seeks to learn more about someone's working habits.


Jonathan Hirschberg - 2/3/2010 6:28:39

The downside for master/apprentice method is that you have to decide who to observe and this person might not be the typical employee that you’re trying to design software for. May have idiosyncrasies that make them different from other people who work there. Also, it takes a long time to gather data since you have to follow someone around as he or she does work, so it’s expensive. Also, it’s not quite the same as what they would do without your presence because they’ll know you're looking at them.


Long Do - 2/3/2010 10:23:44

I believe that the master/apprentice model is a really great idea because the designer has to really understand every aspect of the customer's problem before he can make a solution. The master-apprentice model allows the designer to be taught everything that would be encountered by the customer in a more intimate way than a regular interviewer or the guest/host model. The only problem might be that the designer might lose focus and start caring about the work and not the problems that are encountered the work which he is trying to find a solution to. But honestly, I don't think that would be such a big problem as long as the designer is professional and remains on point. The other models don't allow you to get as in-depth and understand any occurring problems that the customer might deal with because they are too courteous to tell you in the guest/host model and too summarized in the interviewer/interviewee model. Is it not possible to mix the three models so that the designer can have the customer perform his work and explicitly describe the motions while still keep a more formal interview model where the designer can randomly ask questions or shift focus?


Jungmin Yun - 2/3/2010 11:30:52

This reading introduces and explains relationship models during interviews. For the mater/apprentice model, I think that negative side of this model is stronger than the positive side. An apprentice does not tend to ask questions because he/she can learn from what the master says, asks, and does. So, the interview between them will not be active, and it will be even boring. I can say that the advantage of this is that as I mentioned an apprentice can quiet easily learn from the master, he/she does not try to find another source to learn what they want to study. For the interviewer/interviewee model, I think it is pretty hard for me to find advantages but easy to see disadvantages. The interviewer always ask questions, and the interviewee always answers. After the interviewee answers, the interview falls silent until the interviewer asks another quesiton. The questions are not even related to work. The interviewee always feel nervous because he/she has to be ready to answer questions that the interviewer will ask. I think the only advantage of this model is for the interviewer because he/she can know whatever he/she need to know about the interviewee and does not feel nervous at all. These models have advantages and disadvantages, but sometimes they do not reveal their advantages and disadvantages, so I need to think about them. I feel that I need to know that which model is good for which situation, so that I can have good interviews.


Michael Cao - 2/3/2010 13:00:14

The reading talks about using the master and apprentice model when interviewing a customer. While this can be a very good method, there still seems to be some disadvantages to this model. First of all during the interview, the master is expected to do their usual task while taking the time to stop, think, and explain what they are doing the whole time. This seems very tedious and time consuming. The interviewer might only need information on a small section of the master's actual job, so there may be a bit of useless data gathered. Also, a specific instance of the master performing a task and explaining it might be different than another instance of them performing the same task. All the information might not be revealed. The interviewer and interviewee model might be a little better because only the information the interviewer wants to know will be asked and answered, and the information will most likely be a lot more general to the customer.


Jeffrey Bair - 2/3/2010 13:00:51

The possible disadvantages of the master-apprentice model include the fact that it may take a longer time than a typical interviewer/interviewee interview. With the master-apprentice model you have to follow the master along his typical day which will often take longer than sitting down and having a detailed interview. Also, the master-apprentice model requires the interviewer to actively sit down and try to imagine himself as an apprentice while also keeping in mind to look for design flaws and possible ways to make the masters job easier. With so many different designs one needs to make it's also difficult for the interviewer to get a good sense of what is important to learn under the master. Real apprentices only need to learn under their one master but an interviewer will have to learn from a multitude of masters which may prove difficult.

A potential advantage of the interviewer/interviewee model is again there is an overarching sense of design flaws that can be pointed out since only the most important of flaws will probably be discussed during a Q&A session. It will also be much faster to get to the core problems with this model as only important design questions are brought up. The expert/novice model can be useful when there are certain design decisions that were made by the designers and can be taught to the user. The user can then give feedback about how the design choices were made.


Saba Khalilnaji - 2/3/2010 13:57:34

One main problem with apprentices is that the apprentice must take on a novice third-person type character. They have to focus primarily on the job itself and nothing else. So with the humility and lack of experience they are too busy learning the detail to ask too many questions other than for clarifications. So you only learn what the customer essentially want to teach you, if they don't give you a certain detail you usually will not learn about it. Interviewer/Interviewee allows you to direct questions towards the things you wish to learn about. However this relation breaks the ongoing work flow and doesn't allow you to see patterns in the work structure. Lastly with the expert/novice role where the interviewer takes on the expert role without being able to answer any questions. However if the customer is stuck they cannot continue work without asking question.


Brandon Liu - 2/3/2010 14:08:59

The major disadvantage of the master/apprentice model for interviewing is that it is difficult to stay relevant for more than one customer. For example, if one is to design something for an entire tema, each individual may lead the interviewer on a different set of stories and contexts. It would be hard to synthesize all the information in each individual case. The advantage of an interviewer/interviewee model is that there is consistent questions among all the customers, making comparisons easier.


Owen Lin - 2/3/2010 14:29:35

I didn't know there was so much research done on how to conduct a proper interview. It's interesting to realize that the different relationship models really govern how effective an interview is. This article is very relevant for us, so we know how to investigate our target user group for our application and know exactly what they want in an app. I learned from this article that the best way to gather valuable information is to be with the user in "context" (waiting at a bus stop with the user for a Bus Planner application, for example), and interact with the user in a friendly, unoppressive, and dynamic way. And I would keep in mind that the information that I'm looking for is concrete, not generalizations, so that we would be able to properly design an application based on concrete data.


Nathaniel Baldwin - 2/3/2010 14:43:21

The suggestions for proper techniques to get useful information from customers about their needs in this week's article made a lot of sense. It almost seemed like just plain common sense, but perhaps that was just a feature of the plainspoken writing style (in contrast to Monday's reading!), as I'm sure I couldn't have simply come up with this process on the fly. They seemed especially concerned with stressing the importance of attention to all details, no matter how seemingly obvious or unimportant. Another thing that caught my eye was the importance placed on understanding why requests had been made by the customers: "Understanding the underlying work practice yields much more flexibility in how to respond…" This rang very true to me, thinking back on my experience as a systems administrator working with the programming team - if I know what their underlying goals are, I can help much more effectively. One thing they didn't touch on was working with difficult people; that is, all of their suggestions were put forth as if they simply worked all the time, with not much discussion of "if this happens, try X". They did talk about interview 'relationship' traps to avoid, but perhaps could have used a little more suggestion along these lines.


Aneesh Goel - 2/3/2010 14:53:22

The paper makes some of the disadvantages of other models clear, and makes a compelling case for the master/apprentice model. That said, there are clearly cases where such a model would be inappropriate. Jobs with a level of danger involved and that require specialized training are difficult for the designer to enter as an apprentice; when learning the shortcomings of a firefighter's equipment, for example, a designer cannot practically follow a team into a burning building and ask questions as they work. Other jobs might not be dangerous, but still sensitive to the impact of an untrained presence - a designer could unintentionally interfere significantly with a police investigation on scene, for example. In cases like this, where contextual interviews are difficult but the standards for the product will be that much more exacting, an alternate model better than the conventional interview would be nice after listing the shortcomings of the conventional interview.


Yu Li - 2/3/2010 14:56:18

Although the paper argues for the "master-apprentice" model for interviews, I believe that having an interviewer simply observe the master/customer and learn through watching and questions about the task will not be sufficient. Often times the apprentice simply follows the master and does not think outside of the box. Even though the "master-apprentice" model offers a very in-depth and step by step record of the master/customer in their work environment, it lacks more inquisitive questions and information collecting. I believe that in order to conduct a good interview, rapport and not just simply observation must be established. In order to do this, the interviewer must be comfortable with the interviewee and they must be partners in the information collecting process.


Brian Chin - 2/3/2010 15:07:00

I think contextual inquiry is a great way to interview people. It seems able to get answers and details out of people that they normally would not be able to answer or think it important to say. It also allows the interviewer to make observations about what the person is doing so they can get information from that as well, instead of relying entirely on what the person said. However, I think contextual inquiry and the master-apprentice model have their downsides as well. In particular, it seems that the interviews take an excessive amount of time, 2-3 hours according to the reading. If a group wanted to interview a large group of people, there would be no way to effectively do this using contextual inquiry and the master-apprentice model. Also, if a group wanted to statistically analyze the results from their interviews and make generalizations about their target group from their interviews, difficulties could also arise. The master-apprentice model gives great freedom to the interviewer and the interviewee in determining the path of the interview. This means that data from different interviews may be difficult to put together. Also, different interviewers may also create biases the data. I think that it would be effective to use contextual inquiry and the master-apprentice model early on in the design process, to get a strong foundation. However, as the design process progresses, I feel that the group will need to interview an increasing number of people and see how they respond to the product. This would make 2-3 hour interviews impossible to manage. It would be much more effective to adopt the interviewer-interviewee model and ask them about specifics that the group is concerned about.


Eric Fung - 2/3/2010 15:13:07

Again, this reading emphasizes the need for the designer to have a lot of attention to detail. The designer needs to be consistently unsatisfied with generalized and abstract summaries of the interviewee's work, instead focusing and revisiting concrete details. The master-apprentice model may fail if the apprentice gets wrapped up in learning the task instead of retaining a meta-view of how to improve the procedure. This is where interview models like the Partnership help, since they allow the interviewer to question existing methods of doing a task and propose alternatives. Ultimately, design should be customer-inspired, for whom the product must be adapted for.


Divya Banesh - 2/3/2010 15:17:42

Although the master and apprentice can learn a great deal from the master/apprentice model, there are several key things that are missing. For example, the apprentice will not truly learn what they need to know until they can try it out for themselves and get critique back from the master. In the master/apprentice model, the apprentice only observed but the apprentice needs to keep a hands on attitude to actually learn. To make a comparison, students learn when their professors solve problems on the board, but they truly understand their material when they can apply their knowledge to problems on their own. Also, the master/apprentice model lacks in that the apprentice should be able to ask questions and see what happens if they make changes in the process instead of blindly following what the master tells them.


Kathryn Skorpil - 2/3/2010 15:24:26

Interpretation of what was learned is probably the most difficult step. You have to be taken out of your comfort zone to understand what the user will need. You may not understand how everything works, but you still have to understand why it was done and how to use what you learned to create something useable. Also deciding what is best for the user can depend on everything you learned during the context/partnership steps. It may even be not obvious to the user what exactly they need, but it is up to you to decide what that is.


Dan Lynch - 2/3/2010 15:40:28

The first object of interest in the "Principles of Inquiry" is the "Relationship Model". The author believes that if you play your role with some model consisting of two roles, you will pull another person into playing the corresponding role in a given relationship. This could possibly be misunderstood as a way to control people, but in this case the context seems to be a way to help others, and optimize the knowledge that can be extracted from a customer for their benefit.

The Master/Apprentice model is intriguing--why are we not learning this way in school? This seems to be really a good way to learn. People can learn better through interactions and watching an action as it is executed. People can also teach better through doing. Some things are ineffable and we cannot verbalize how to do some action, yet through doing it, our explanation starts to flow and we suddenly are reminded how.

Now, although this relationship model seems to be promising, an apprenticeship is not something that an interviewer can actually do in one day--so this aspect must be considered and a new model should be extrapolated. Tips and clues around the work area of a customer can usually provide details to fill the gaps. Although, I believe this is not quite enough. Ideally it would be great if we can get entirely into the minds of the customer, however, it is impossible to achieve with infinite accuracy. That is of course, why this topic is of paramount importannce.

This relationship model and directing people to being a Master needs to be critically anaylzed for its integrity and legitimacy. Psychology has showed that when people are being observed, they change their behavior. Many people are shy around others or act different than when they are by themselves at work.

Regardless of any of these models or their applications, I think the most interesting part (as I mentioned earlier) is the models themselves and their psychological application. The models to be avoided like Guest/Host, Interviewer/Interviewee, Expert/Novice, etc., are important in everyday interactions with even our peers. Very interesting topic.


Wei Yeh - 2/3/2010 15:54:25

Although Beyer & Holtzblatt introduced the master-apprentice model as the best relationship model to understand the customer's workflow, its downside is in the observer effect, that you can't measure something without changing what you're trying to measure. By having the customer periodically explain her tasks and the designer intervening with questions, the original workflow is lost. The workflow and the actions the customer takes could be very different when she's being observed. For example, she could be very shy and not feel comfortable being observed. As a result, her behavior would not reflect her typical workflow, thus throwing off this contextual inquiry. Beyer & Holtzblatt fails to address this issue.

There are potential advantages to other relationship models. The guest-host model may be somewhat better than the master-apprentice model in the sense that the customer is less distracted and can perform her tasks as she would if she were alone. The interviewer-interviewee model may be beneficial if the designer has certain questions that need to be answered in order to make design decisions.


Weizhi Li - 2/3/2010 16:01:56

According to the article, contextual inquiry is an interviewing method that gathers information about a particular group of people’s routines, habits and behaviors while they are in the environment or doing the activity that we need to study. At first, it reminded me another term in the study of user-centered desigh, field study. In some extent, they are quite similar. The both requires to blend into the environment to observe how the customers doing the activity. They both involve some sorts of similar methodology and objective. However, in the case of field study, the interviewer brings an apparent task or motivation into the process of inquiry and request the interviewee to doing activities based on this particular task or motivation. Unlike field study, in the case of contextual inquiry, the interviewer gives no task to the user (interviewee) and allows the user to doing activities in a freewheeling way without any disturb. This process can help the interviewers to observer the customer experience and possible problems in an environment much closer to reality.


Arpad Kovacs - 2/3/2010 16:10:41

Contextual inquiry seems very similar to the concept of ethnography in anthropology, where the scientist assumes the role of an initiate in the society being studied, and lives among the people to understand not only their lifestyle, but also their core belief and value systems. In particular, this reflects the text's advice that a true interpretation can only be achieved by building and maintaining a close, informal partnership of shared inquiry and discovery with the customer, since only then will the customer become truly interested in ensuring that the designer's notions are complete and correct. I think that this occurs because after a certain level of trust has been achieved, the customer begins to take pride in his/her work and expertise, and wants to pass on that information so that the designer can truly appreciate the intricacies of his profession and achieve the level of colleagues rather than master/apprentice or interviewer/interviewee.


Chris Wood - 2/3/2010 16:54:09

Observing someone and how they work, the scientist/subject approach, as a means to create an interface that is suitable for their style seems intuitively like a good idea, but it may create an interface too fine tuned to the personality quirks of the observation group. Plus someone being observed is not going to act like themselves. The apprentice/master relationship is much better. Whenever I am in a situation where I am an apprentice I think "soon the apprentice will become the master." The master can look at how his user is under pressure, his true character will be revealed, and much information will be gained by a shrewd master. Partnership is not a good means to get information because the learner and source of information think they are equals. Bad idea. All the discussion about reading signs from and interaction with your potential users during an interview, I have one comment on all of that: we need to stop treating people as characters and start treating them like people.


Alexis He - 2/3/2010 16:55:25

There are several spects of the apprentice/master interview model that I find lacking. The most striking aspect is that it does not allow the master to show the most critical features it considers if the apprentice is constantly caught nitpicking in the details. The article mentions that the apprentice should keep the master from talking in the abstract and show evidence, but I can foresee too much unimportant information potentially overshadowing the more urgent ones.

Also this model for user-feedback interviewing can almost feel outdated when taken into account the current methods of logging user behavior on the computer (for ex, Windows logging user behavior and sending back to company servers). Would modern analysis techniques change the approach of an uninformed apprentice to master into a more knowledgeable student to master? (Where the knowledgeable student does his/her homework based on previous user behavior logs). The shape of such an interview could differ from the readings.


Spencer Fang - 2/3/2010 16:57:02

One disadvantage of the master-apprentice model is that it takes a while for the user to get used to treating the designer as a partner. This would be especially true when it comes to software products targeting non-technical users. The office secretary example in the text is an excellent example, since a secretary is not expected to be a computer expert. Novices in the presence of an expert might feel intimidated, and may not express themselves freely. Another disadvantage is that the designer needs to watch the user as s/he uses the product. This might be difficult in some situations. One student's app proposal for this class was to create a rock climbing app. To fully understand the user's reaction to the design, the interviewer must have a lot of knowledge in the domain of rock climbing, and be able to somehow observe the user as he rockclimbs.

The traditional interviewer-interviewee model is good because it lets the interviewer directly get the answers that he needs, although it severely limits the scope of the interview to the prepared questions. This does streamline the interviewing process and allow the interviewer to collect data from a lot of subjects.


Swapnil Ralhan - 2/3/2010 16:57:30

An interesting point that I see is the relative importance and trade-offs involved in choosing multiple interviewers versus a single interviewer. A single interviewer may help to keep the balance of power in favor of the interviewee, enabling the interview to follow the master-apprentice model. On the other hand, more interviewers help finding more points that are relevant to the design.


Geoffrey Wing - 2/3/2010 16:59:02

I believe that the master-apprentice model described in the meeting is the best way to learn about your customer. The customer should feel as natural as possible, so we get the most genuine interaction with their work. However, I do feel like the master-apprentice model could be combined with aspects of other models to improve the process. When the team meets before the interviews to get on the same focus, I feel that they should come up with questions to ask the customer before proceeding with the interview. It's important that we get what the customer has issues with, as a baseline. The customer can continue to think about these questions while demonstrating, so they may come up with more insight and provide better explanations for the work they do. In addition, the interview may not hit all possible situations, so it might be a good idea to try to put the customer in certain scenarios to see what they would do. I also think that customers may be put off by the nosiness suggested by the article, so it's probably best to make a judgment on a case-by-case basis to determine how nosy to be.


Andrey Lukatsky - 2/3/2010 17:16:47

The master-apprentice model seems to be inherently geared for certain situations, particularly those that don't require an understanding of the interconnectedness of various components. The reading argues that the craftsmen does not need to be a good teacher (he'll teach by doing); however, it seems that if the craft involves an understanding of various (seemingly random) details, a good teacher is a necessity. The apprentice won't be able to pickup such nuances.


Richard Heng - 2/3/2010 17:18:22

The passage was well argued, and I agreed with most of the points made. Although, I would have preferred some more concrete descriptions about how to employ the technique. Particularly, towards the end of the passage, the author recommend that the interviewer take extensive notes. I thought this would have been an important part to elaborate on. Is there a particular way to take these notes? The interviewing techniques were so specific, I would have appreciated it to learn in detail how the interviewer stores the newly acquired information. Perhaps it would be an interesting exercise to be an apprentice to the interviewer.


jonathanbeard - 2/3/2010 17:18:38

I just thought I'd try to come up with a criticism against the Master / Apprentice Model. I was thinking it might be pretty annoying to some people if someone was following them around asking them why they do things certain ways. Sometimes we do things out of habit and they become such rituals to us that we don't want to stop doing them even though they might make our work harder. Part of the annoyance of new software is that its new features have to be learned again. So the old saying goes "if it isn't broken, don't fix it". I've noticed this at a number of jobs, where I'm like "why in the world are they doing it that way," but that just has to be the way it is. So, I think this Master / Apprentice Model should be more focused on problems that arise to the master, and not so much problems thought up by the Apprentice.


Mikhail Shashkov - 2/3/2010 17:25:48

I thought it was ironic how the paper justifies it's "new" approach by saying others are too detailed and then after describing its method in the first 3-4 pages, goes on to elaborate in terribly unneccesary detail. The idea is fairly well encapsulated in 3 sentences; but anyway, it is a good idea.

As for the discussion questions, I wanted to comment on a possible negative result of contextual inquiry: lying. Well, not so much lying as making stuff up to be more elaborate than necessary. Such as the secretary example, who suddenly has a very rigid schedule (hanging up her coat first etc..). I think in these scenarios (under the pressure of an interviewer) may tend to lie about their procedures in order to seem like they are good at their job. Which in turn could compromise all of your data.


Bobby Lee - 2/3/2010 17:29:13

Disadvantage of Apprentice and Master Model:

     Since all the material are raw and are taught piece by piece and the lessons aren't structured ,the interviewers have to organize the information with great effort compared to a lecturer and student model.
     Also, the author seems to make the Apprentice and Mater Model so ideal that I don't believe every customer  is accustomed to this model. For example, we might encounter a silent and passive interviewee. The traditional interview model,the questionnaire like process, might help to gather more data  than having the interviewee talk about their daily routine. 

Advantage of interviewer/interviewee Model:

      Sometimes we need to collect geographical data, it is best to fill in a questionnaire form. It is easier to collect statistical data.
      


Joe Cadena - 2/3/2010 17:31:52

   What I understand from the article is that contextual inquiry is loosely based on the teaching technique of master-apprentice.  Both involve learning by observing and require an acute attention to detail.  But in regards to designers, the master-apprentice technique allows minimal interjections from the apprentice, or designer in our case, when a flaw appears in the method.  Designers are required to fully understand the duties of the master (customer) and question the process of their methods.  Thus, the master-apprentice technique suffices as a basis for contextual inquiry but not as a model.
   Conversely, other methods mentioned in the article such as interviewer/interviewee, expert/novice, and host/guest techniques are deeply discouraged since they prevent an accurate representation of how the customer progresses through his work day.  But I believe you can take key elements of these techniques and incorporate it into a contextual inquiry.   For example, with the interviewer/interviewee model, the designer could research the customer's overall objective beforehand and produce a list of questions he hopes to get answered during the interview.  Similarly, in the expert/novice method, the designer could create a list of expectations he hopes to achieve by the end of the interview and address the customer when a goal goes unaddressed.
   The contextual inquiry model seems like an efficient tool for designers but also as technique that requires practice.  From what I read, I get the sense that designers who utilize this method must be outgoing and comfortable interacting with people.  It requires a designer to give their attention, focus, understanding, and direction to a person they've never met.  Nevertheless, it's nothing a dedicated designer cannot overcome.


Esther Cho - 2/3/2010 17:36:29

The master-apprentice model is a good model for when you are investigating your customer and their needs for the first time (or maybe even a second time). You want to get to know their needs and what they are accustomed to by watching them. The text says by observing, the interviewer can see actions which the customer is not aware of because it becomes habit. I thought this can tie in to the "task-centered design process" because you can observe what customers are accustomed to and thus know what they might expect in something new. However, if we follow the iterative process of design, the designer would have to see their customers more than once (to get feedback) and it seems the master-apprentice relationship would not work as effectively in this case.


Jordan Klink - 2/3/2010 17:37:48

I found this to be an incredibly narrow view on how to conduct contextual inquiry, in that it focused entirely on the "master-apprentice" model. It did mention other models but it was extremely verbatim in comparison, and it also mentioned some shortcomings of the model but it too was verbatim. The article was very close-minded with this approach, and in fact I believe it to be fatally flawed. There is one point in that it was correct, in that you do indeed need to develop a "partnership" with the customer in order to engage his/her natural work habits. However, I don't believe that the master-apprentice model is the one and only solution. I think this is a very subjective matter and highly depends on the customer's preferences, and whatever he/she is most comfortable with. Perhaps the customer has an incredibly good memory and hates being watched, then clearly an interview would be better suited. This is of course only one counter-example, but every person is unique, and for this article to ignore that brings me to the conclusion that it's argument is weak and limited in scope.


sean lyons - 2/3/2010 17:39:38

Beyer & Holtzblatt's master/apprentice paradigm require a practicing designer to tutor a novice, in the same way that the contextual inquiry paradim requires a practicing professional to tutor a designer in their own practices. B&H acknowledge that it is easy for the inquiring designer to fall into a polite, unproductive relationship with their user, but that designers must "move quickly past the formal relationship to the role of partner in inquiry." (56) This is possible and relatively easy to accomplish, because "partnership transforms the apprenticeship relationship into a mutual relationship of shared inquiry and discovery" (56), but the similar trap that a master/apprentice can fall prey to has no such recourse. While an inquiring designer/user have roughly similar authority in their respective crafts, apprentices are merely told that "It is easy for the master to pause and make an observation or for the apprentice to ask a question about something the master did. Observation interspersed with discussion requires little extra effort on the part of either master or apprentice." (2) and no more bones are made about the inequal distribution of power. The beneficiality of peers learning from one another is mentioned later, but is notably lacking in the master/apprentice model.


Conor McLaughlin - 2/3/2010 17:45:55

I had a summer internship doing IT support for Lucasfilm, so there were certain facets of the master-apprentice relationship that I felt really understood how an individual can most properly show how they go about his or her day at work. However, one of the definitive limitations I experienced was people's tendency to do the same task in different ways. If one is to be shadowing someone while they do their work, he or she must be looking for quantity, as well, by interviewing multiple different individuals while having a similar guideline as to what you as the interviewer want to focus on.

The article partially addresses these issues by having the preliminary 15-minute interview before entering the actual contextual interview, but I believe the wrap-up should also be extended to slightly longer and involve more traditional questioning on the interviewer's part. The main constraint of contextual inquiry is one actually has to be in, or reminded of, the situation in order to learn about an interviewee's work. But what if a situation does not arise that day that is actually incredibly relevant to what the interviewer is looking for? Given the constraint of time and money, I think situations such as that described above can be partially addressed by having the interviewer take on a more conventional role at the very end of the wrap up and try to really hammer on what kind of work-related details they're looking for. Focus on the fact that you've covered everything that happened that day, is there anything else that commonly arises that could be an issue? Obviously it requires refinement, but the actual events of the day can be one of the largest influences on what details an interviewer takes away.


Wilson Chau - 2/3/2010 17:46:41

The paper argues for the "master-apprentice" model during interviews. It also describes other relationships (like interviewer/interviewee) that interviews can fall into. What are potential disadvantages of the master-apprentice model? And conversely, what are potential advantages of other interview models?

Disadvantages of the master-apprentice model are that it could take way too long. In order to really grasp something the apprentice might have to spend a lot of time working with the client before they can get an idea of what they want. Another problem is that by getting so deep into the project they lose some abstraction that may help them to better see the problem from a larger view.

I think that an advantage of the interviewing model is that although it might not be perfect it gives you a good idea of the problem and what to do really quickly. By getting a quick idea of the problem it could be useful for planning models that might better be able to narrow the focus.


Darren Kwong - 2/3/2010 17:46:54

Disadvantages of the master/apprentice relationship include relatively long interview times where the interviewer shadows the customer throughout their work. In addition, it only gives data on that particular customer in that particular day for those particular tasks (and recollections of past accounts). The interviewer/interviewee relationship can be more broad and efficient by employing a list of questions, althought it is less effective.

I think the arguments made in this reading for the master/apprentice relationship are fairly sound. Its effectiveness seems to be the best provided that the interviewer is able to establish the partnership feeling and get the customer's cooperation. The main issue is the time required for each interview and the amount interviews that need to be done for adequate data.


Kyle Conroy - 2/3/2010 17:49:59

While the concept of contextual inquiry can provide detailed information to designers via on-site experience, this method of investigation breaks down when the target audience's environment is too dangerous for actual visitation. Where do designers of a space station module go to see their subjects (astronauts) interact with their equipment in zero-gravity? I think the designer must have a system in place to fall back on when contextual inquiry is limited by travel limitations. A plausible method might be to visit a site that mirrors certain properties of the target audience's workplace. While this may not be the true environment, a suitable replacement will still provide valuable data. In the above example, a pool maybe be used to simulate zero gravity inside a space station module. Using similar environments allows designers to apply contextual inquiry in situations where it would otherwise be impossible to observe users.


Mila Schultz - 2/3/2010 17:50:15

This was a good general summary of contextual inquiry. I am interested in more detail on different types of users/customers, and how interviews should be tailored to their needs, personalities, mannerisms. For example, how would this process change (if at all) if the users were young children, speaking a different language and using a translator? I think contextual inquiries into a specific culture (ethnographic research?) and more general life patterns might require some adjustment of the process described. The chapter also made me consider how one contextual inquiry might change how related inquiries are conducted during a single project, or how they can be normalized if the same team member can't be present at all interviews to compare. I wonder how effective a standardized way to report on the contextual inquiry would be.


Kevin Tham - 2/3/2010 17:55:27

The potential disadvantages of the master/apprentice model would be that not all key elements might be observed where the designer already knows what the customer does in the general case, but is unaware of the technical difficulties of their job. There is knowledge that the master would understand very well that the "apprentice" will not immediately gain without spending time to increase his/her expertise in the area. Basically, they have a special intuition that you lack. This special intuition cannot be obtained on the spot. In this case, I think the interviewer/interviewee relationship model has some advantages. The reading states that the interviewee will only answer questions and then remain silent there afterwards, which probably won't be the case here. The interviewer will most likely have many many questions about everything, and the interviewee will slow down and answer more thoroughly. I do not believe the interviewee will stop until the they are assured that the interviewer understands the situation of their jobs. If instead, the interviewer were to adopt an apprenticeship role, there would be much less questions be asked, and therefore less answers being given. The apprentice will have to use their own senses to figure out design problems rather than relying on concrete data from the master. The reading itself states that concrete data is more desirable than summarized abstract data and the interviewer role, in my view, would get more concrete data as they pinpoint the source of each problem/decisions faced/made. Though I do agree with many of the advantages this article claims about master/apprentice model, I don't think it's an end all situation. (though to be fair, the reading states that too.)


Anthony Chen - 2/3/2010 17:59:06

I found this week's reading really interesting because this step in the design cycle of learning about the customers' needs was always something that I recognized was very important, but didn't know how was implemented. It allowed me to realize how difficult it really is to pull off a good interview that gives the information required for a designer.

First off, I really like how the article identifies the key components of a good interview. The role-playing aspect I find is very true, and I agree with some of the author's analysis on how the traditional interviewer/interviewee or the expert/novice relationships present problems when actually trying to learn about a topic. The article also allowed me to appreciate the importance of the interviewer's preparation in focus on the subject. At the same time, the article cautions against many of the pitfalls in focus and interpretation that I'm sure I have experienced before in interviews but never explicitly noticed myself, like how surprises in interviews actually mean that your understanding of the subject and the other person's understanding of the subject fundamentally differ, or how nods/confirmations in interviews don't necessarily mean that your understanding of the subject is correct.

I've been the interviewee in a "contextual interview" before and I really didn't realize some of the things that the interviewer was doing until the article mentioned now. I feel like now having read this article, I can be a better interviewee as well, helping the interviewer into the correct pseudo-apprentice/master role, as well as providing the appropriate contextual information for the interviewer.

Finally, I am very curious how many of of the high tech companies conduct these contextual interviews. Do they hire a contractor or do they send their own software engineers/program managers directly to the customer to take notes. Both of the options seem very costly, and because of that, like we discussed in class, I feel like it is very easy to fall into the trap of believing that your own interpretations of the customers' needs are absolute and correct.


Andrew Finch - 2/3/2010 18:01:45

While the "master-apprentice" model of collecting data does have its advantages, I see a number of key drawbacks in it. The most predominant one that I see is the lack of structure. When conducting an interview or collecting data, you often want answers to specific questions in order to design and build your product properly. The "master-apprentice" model fails to address this, as the data collector merely follows the lead of the other party. This is where the interviewer/interviewee approach has its advantages.



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