Contextual Inquiry (Hidden dimension of user research)

  • The intended users
  • Their tasks
  • The tools that support the users’ goals
  • The physical environment in which a product will be used
  • The technical environment and associated technical constraints
  • Other contextual factors that will affect the user experience
  • Record when possible.
  • Speak with one participant at a time.
  • Encourage participants to think out loud.
  • Notate body language and non-verbal signals.
  • Do not put participants under pressure.
  • Plan time for analyzing results.

The Advantages of Contextual Interviewing

  1. The veracity of information observing users in their natural environment tends to lead to very accurate information
  2. This kind of study produces highly detailed information as opposed to many other qualitative methods which produce more high-level information
  3. The flexibility of the method contextual research can be carried out wherever a user operates
  4. Ability to observe nonverbal cues such as body language and facial expressions.
  5. Helps refine persona and scenario development prior to jumping into the design.
  6. As contextual inquiry is led by the participants, it takes whatever course the user wants to give it as well as flexibility from their point of view.

The Drawbacks of Contextual Interviewing

  1. As is the case with any qualitative research, this method must be backed up with data gathered from other methods, and then the data must be interpreted to get a more clear and accurate picture of the findings.
  2. Time and resource-intensive. Visiting a user and conducting in-depth observations takes more time than many other research methods and as such can be more costly too.
  3. Being an unfamiliar method of research, clients need to be explained in detail what contextual inquiry is and how exactly will it help them learn whatever they are looking to learn from the exercise.
  4. The analysis depends on the capability of the observer. Your mere presence influences their activity and is not 100% natural.
  5. Intensive use of time; Can be costly when compared to other research methods. Approaching participants takes a certain type of personality to do so effectively.



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