Human/Computer Interaction and the U.S. Bureau of the Census

HCIL Census

Automating and computerizing data collection using computer-aided personal interviews (CAPI), computer-aided telephone interviews (CATI), and computerized self-administered questionnaires (CSAQ) have greatly facilitated survey data collection. However, computerization has also introduced new problems dealing with the use of the computer, the constraints of program logic, and the usability of the interface. In order to ensure reliable and valid data, the human-computer interface must be designed to match the flow of the interviewer process and the interviewee’s recall of information. New methods of interface design and powerful interface tools are available to aid in the generation of new interfaces for survey data collection.

Enabling users to benefit from government statistical databases requires much more than simply making them accessible. The staggering number of data tables and the complexity of terminology plus concepts makes effective use of statistical databases a challenge for novice as well as expert users.

The human/computer interface has become the focal point for both software development and applied research on the cognitive processes involved in users performing tasks on computers. On the one side, interface designers are interested in principles and guidelines that will help in specifying and implementing good user interfaces for everything from database entry and survey administration to accessing information on the World Wide Web (WWW). On the other side, researchers are interested in general principles informed by cognitive psychology as to how users search for information, navigate the interface, and make decisions based on the information found.

Research by the HCIL at the University of Maryland will contribute to both facets of the interface issue: practical design guidelines and basic cognitive principles.

Description of Proposed Project with the Bureau of the Census

Study on the Navigation of Surveys:

On-Line Reports and Summaries:

Navigation of Long Surveys. Long surveys can be presented in a number of ways on the WWW. They can be one long scrolling form or they can be broken down into sections, screen sized pages, or single items. Navigation can be facilitated using indexs and document maps. This study compares eight different designs.

List of Survey Designs
Best of the breed with status checks
Draft Report on Preliminary Results
Summary Report on Preliminary Results, August 16, 1999.
If you would like to participate in the study, you may go to: Start the Study
Status of Projects, September 30, 1999.
Presentation to the Census, November 1, 1999.

Navigation of Jumps: Conditional branching is easily handled by trained interviewers, but can be very confusing in printed and on-line surveys. This study looks at the pros and cons of auto-branching on WWW-based surveys.

Simultaneous versus Sequential Menus:

Information in hierarchical symmetric databases can be accessed through a sequence of menus that drill down to the information or a set of simultaneous menus that triangulate on the information. This study compares the two approaches. As an example of the simultaneous method, see the following:

Simultaneous Menus To see the demo, pick Maryland, then pick Prince George's County. Only a few combinations are currently supported.