Measuring the Unmeasurable?: Eliciting Hard to Measure Information about the User Experience

Measuring the Unmeasurable?: Eliciting Hard to Measure Information about the User Experience

Andrew Saxon (Birmingham City University, UK), Shane Walker (Birmingham City University, UK) and David Prytherch (Birmingham City University, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-523-0.ch015


This chapter focuses on the adoption and adaptation of methodologies drawn from research in psychology for the evaluation of user response as a manifestation of the mental processes of perception, cognition and emotion. We present robust alternative conceptualizations of evaluative methodologies, which allow the surfacing of views, feelings and opinions of individual users producing a richer, more informative texture for user centered evaluation of software. This differs from more usual user questionnaire systems such as the Questionnaire of User Interface Satisfaction (QUIS). We present two different example methodologies so that the reader can firstly, review the methods as a theoretical exercise and secondly, applying similar adaptation principles, derive methods appropriate to their own research or practical context.
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Viewed from a visual design perspective, there appears to be a lack of empirical research investigating the determinants of important aspects of user behaviour such as emotion and motivation, and how an understanding of these may influence designers’ decisions in the software evaluation process. The ubiquitous nature of information technology today means that the computer is no longer just a tool for those who are compelled to use it, or have to learn to use it, as was the case in the 1980s. Interfaces, in particular on the Internet, must appeal to a broad base of users with varying levels of skill and ability, and should work first time to ensure the user is not ‘put off’ the experience. Aesthetic considerations (often referred to as beauty) may also be considered significant in this context, (Hartmann, Sutcliffe & De Angeli, 2007) but have only attracted significant interest from researchers in the last few years. (Hassenzahl, 2008) Modern psychological theories on motivation that attempt to unify other existing theories (e.g. Ford, 1992) agree on a basic structure of component processes: goal directed activity, an individual’s belief in their skills and the context within which they will work, and finally their emotions. This approach sits well with other theories of human motivation and personality (Ryan and Deci, 2000) currently cited in the HCI field.

Motivation is a rather abstract term that historically has challenged psychologists to provide satisfactory definitions. Unified theories that attempt to satisfactorily explain human motivation have been developed only relatively recently and research on motivation within HCI such as the Technology Acceptance Model, (TAM) (Davis, 1989) supports the argument that visual communication and functionality (perceived ease of use) influence users’ motivation, and change user behaviour in a way that impacts on usability. Research has shown that highly motivated users experience less anxiety, have higher perceptions of self-efficacy and more positive attitudes towards the software. (Davis, ibid) The source and impact of generating positive attitudes in users is subject to ongoing debate. Norman (2004) suggests that attractive things generate positive moods that impact directly on improving thought processes and therefore task performance. Hassenzahl (2008) suggests the process is more complex, and that a clear link to task performance is not proven. However, there is agreement that aesthetics satisfies basic human needs and therefore can impact on motivation. (Tractinsky & Hassenzahl, 2005).

In order to assess how far visual design techniques applied to the user interface can harmonize with psychological needs for optimal performance on specific tasks and attainment of goals, we must base questions on a fundamental understanding of key influencing variables of the interaction process, together with a clear knowledge of their relative importance to the individual user. In perceptual terms, interactive computer systems are not just representations of knowledge, but interactive experiences that should seek to fully exploit the user’s senses and emotions, developing new ways to deliver effective communication.

Variables during interaction that can influence user motivation lie in the gulf between executing the task and its evaluation. The users evaluate their goals, their own ability to attain them and the potential of the context, (in this case the computer system) to support them in this activity. Evaluation is on going as perception is regularly matched against expectation, with emotions playing a key role in this process leading to opportunities to evaluate the success of the interface. This gulf may be bridged by addressing issues from either direction, the computer or the user. The system designer can bridge such issues by creating interaction mechanisms that better match the psychological needs of the user as evidenced by the task model.

We present two different examples, describing tested methodologies for addressing these needs, though many other comparable adaptations of different domain methodologies might be similarly useful. (e.g. Greenberg, Fitzpatrick, Gutwin, & Kaplan, 2000; Hollan, Hutchins & Kirsh, 2000; Duric et al., 2002)

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