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What is Contextual Inquiry?

Contextual Inquiry is all about interacting with the person in the moment, in the “contextual ” situation of the individual(s) utilizing your product/service. It’s a research method that focuses on combining observation of the user as they interact with your product with an interview of the user immediately following their experience.

Why use Contextual Inquiry? 

Once an end user leaves an experience, they immediately begin to forget details of the encounter just by nature of the human mind. The further away from the experience they progress, the less they remember. Contextual Inquiry provides you with the opportunity to capture user answers real-time, minimizing the potential for forgotten, vital details as well as allowing you to clarify your understanding of their experience. Capturing the data real-time makes this research method  more realistic than laboratory data.

In some cases, a user may be experiencing difficulties or issues of which they are not even aware. Contextual Inquiry allows you see the issues or successes that the user may not have noticed or considered verbalizing. You are also in a key position to identify areas that could be modified to increase the usability and benefit the user in other ways. After which you are able to leverage your observations to create a better user experience.

How do we do this?

There are various additions or modifications to how to conduct a Contextual Inquiry. However the basic steps to  a successful Contextual Inquiry are as follows:

  1. Identify your goals.
  2. List any specific actions you want to observe as well as any questions you may have.
  3. Identify the users. This includes specifying the types of users and how many you would like to observe.
  4. Schedule and conduct visits. If there are multiple types of users, it is recommended that you observe at least two from each group.
  5. Analyze the Data.


Contextual Inquiry: Leave Your Office to Find Design Ideas

Field studies observe how people interact with interfaces in their own environment. Real-world contexts reveal behaviors for which you might not be aware.

Conducting Contextual Enquiry (or Site Visits)

Gerry Gaffney gives some helpful tips on gathering information about users using contextual inquiry (or site visits). Source: UX Mastery