This paper discusses the role of user-centred evaluations as an essential method for researching interactive information retrieval. It draws mainly on the work carried out during the Clarity Project where different user-centred evaluations were run during the lifecycle of a cross-language information retrieval system. The iterative testing was not only instrumental to the development of a usable system, but it enhanced our knowledge of the potential, impact, and actual use of cross-language information retrieval technology. Indeed the role of the user evaluation was dual: by testing a specific prototype it was possible to gain a micro-view and assess the effectiveness of each component of the complex system; by cumulating the result of all the evaluations (in total 43 people were involved) it was possible to build a macro-view of how cross-language retrieval would impact on users and their tasks. By showing the richness of results that can be acquired, this paper aims at stimulating researchers into considering user-centred evaluations as a flexible, adaptable and comprehensive technique for investigating non-traditional information access systems.\u
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