Discovery Operations Guide

Research Two Ways

Interviews and Observations


There are many means by which designers accomplish the research necessary to understand their problem frame. Two of the major methods are interviews and observation. Interviews are usually conducted with only one or two participants, and are structured more like guided conversations, and less like formal interviews that you might have conducted or participated in in your past. You always need at least two team members to complete an interview: a interviewer and a notetaker.

The second major method is oberservation. Observation means understanding the system(s) with which your participant interacts in order to understand their experience. This can be as simple as a fly-on-the-wall tactic, in which you stay silent and take notes on your participant’s activities, or as in-depth as what we call participatory observation, where you actually participate in the system in order to fully understand its function and how it might / does affect your participants. A single researcher can perform an observation, but if you are working as a team and / or the process seems to require multiple sets of eyes, two team members can work together in these engagements.

Preparation for both research methods is similar. The creation of a reserach guide with the key points you and the team need to touch on during interviews or watch for during observations is a key component to staying on task throughout these engagements. Also have at-the-ready your elevator pitch, in case you need to quickly explain your project.


Use this checklist as you move through the Research phase of your project.

  • Review the HCD Discovery Concept Guide’s section on Research.
  • Check with the Logistics Coordinator on interview site details before each time you go into the field to research.
  • Review the participants’ background the night before.
  • Review with your team the supplies each person will bring: notebooks, pens, recording devices, and sticky notes can all be useful in the field.
  • Print out and have digital versions of your research guide.
  • Review your project elevator pitch.