Introduction to qualitative research methods

As applications become more complex and open-ended, traditional software requirements techniques struggle to account for the messiness of everyday life into which many systems are now embedded. In both academia and in industry, there is an increasing shift to adopting qualitative research methods to understand people and their behaviours in their everyday contexts of use and using these insights to inform software design and/or to evaluate systems in use.

This course will provide a broad introduction into the use of qualitative methods for the purposes of technology design and evaluation.  Depending on the interests and experiences of the participants, topics can include:

  • Core qualitative user research methods (observations and interview)
  • Planning and conducting fieldwork
  • Overview of other qualitative methods
  • Relevant theoretical framings
  • Challenges and limits of an ethnographically-informed approach
  • Older people/AAL case studies (see below)

Case studies from working with older people and with AAL related applications will be used as examples. In particular the case studies will point to the value of qualitative methods for re-thinking how we think about older people and aging and the role that technologies can play in caring for older people. Participants are also welcome to bring any of their own stories and experiences as relevant.


  1. Choose a qualitative study paper (your choice, pick one close to your interests). Find and read (at least) one paper in the ACM CHI or CSCW proceedings that uses qualitative methods. Be prepared to discuss this.
  1. Watch these short videos
  1. Skim these readings: