User Observation - DePaul University


Usability in Computer Systems

(DePaul University, HCI 450, Lawler)

ASSIGNMENT/User Observation

Objectives of Assignment

To observe the types of obstacles users encounter in learning to use software applications.


Find a volunteer,

preferably a computer novice

, for a half-hour (or longer) observation session. First, identify a technical skill that is new to the user--an introduction to an application or a technique within an application. T hen “train” the user on the skill, sitting with him/her and guiding him/her through the procedure as needed, but actually providing as little direct instruction as possible. Observe and record the user's reactions as he/she deciphers the interface. Take careful notes that will help you later consider the following questions.

      Did the user set the pace of the instruction or defer to you for guidance?

Did the user seem willing or reluctant to experiment and learn by trial-and-error?

What kind of feedback (verbal and non-verbal) did the user provide to indicate understanding or confusion?

What specific problems did the user encounter?

Based on your subjective impressions, what characteristics of the interface seemed to problems for the user? Watch carefully for problems related to Norman's principles of good design described in

The Design of Everyday Things

(p. 52): o "


. By looking, the user can tell the state of the device and the alternatives for action.


A good conceptual model

. The designer provides a good conceptual model for the user, with consistency in the presentation of operations and results and a coherent, consistent system image.


Good mappings

. It is possible to determine the relationships between actions and o results, between the controls and their effects, and between the system state and what is visible.


. The user receives full and continuous feedback about the results of actions." If you were to repeat the observation with another user, would you do anything differently? Describe.


The report should be two or more typed pages in length. The following concise sections should be included:      Objective (similar to that listed above); Method (describe what you did and how you did it); Results (clearly and concisely summarize your observations); Discussion (provide your own thoughts about your observations answered the questions listed above and add any implications for further study) and Conclusion (your final thoughts on the subject).

—make sure you’ve

Date Due

Submit hard copy in class February 2 or before. No late papers will be accepted without documentation of an emergency situation.


This assignment contributes 15 points (15%) of the course grade.