Contextual Inquiry I: A Dip into the Ways of Organizing Results

To shed light on what goes on in the Kdan design team when designing apps, we launch a series of design-centered blog posts demonstrating the process behind our app development. We want to share our methods so that you may want to consider taking a similar approach when designing. In the last post, we introduced the effective contextual inquiry as a research method to help deepen the designers’ understanding of the end user needs. Expanding on this research method, we move onto how researchers would use the collected data to ultimately improve the usability of the product.


Although the process of contextual inquiry may seem complicated and time-consuming, the end result built from it is a system that works as it was built on real knowledge of what you are doing. There are 5 contextual inquiry models; each model serves a different purpose which can be adopted into your analysis depending on the objectives and requirements of each research project. For a more holistic view, you can consider combining the models. In this blog, we will introduce the Flow Model and the Sequence Model.

The Flow Model

This model is used to identify roles and responsibilities, to determine workflow hierarchies, and to observe the communication patterns between these roles in order to accomplish a specific task.

For example, if you want to request a travel reimbursement from your company, your communication flow might be:

1. You initiate the process
2. Your manager approves or rejects the request
3. Your colleague in the financial department approves or rejects the request

Your objective is to reimburse your business travel. During the process you might encounter a few issues – you might have lost some receipts, your manager might forget to approve your request in time, or your financial colleague might turn down your request due to the incorrectly completed form. In this case, there are many gaps that technology can tap in to help.

The process can be noted down with a set of symbols:

flow model

Noteledge Cloud UX design

A Simple Flow Model made in Noteledge Cloud

The Sequence Model

This model, as its name states, emphasizes on the sequence of events to accomplish a task. It is used to separate primary, secondary and tertiary tasks, to identify the aim of each task, and to understand the steps involved in accomplishing the tasks. The sequence model does not only show the process, it also states the rationale that links each action during the process. It is important to keep in mind when designing user interface that users are pervasively led by emotions and their experience – something that may not have been previously considered.

In app development, sequence model can be used before and after the product launch to examine the logic of user interface design. For example, we notice that users who upload large files tend to cancel the uploading, because they think the app has frozen while waiting for the uploading to complete. A simple way to solve this problem is to add a progress bar or inform the users how long this process should take, which would lower their uncertainty (and fear of losing the unsaved edits).

Symbols used in sequence model:

Sequence model

Studying the communication patterns and the sequence of action put us in the users’ shoes. Often the way our users use our products and service is quite different to what we first anticipated. The best policy is to research thoroughly and test out the assumptions rather than guessing. In the next post, we will cover the Culture Model, the Artifact Model, and the Physical model, examining user behavior from different perspectives.

More posts like this,

Design and Research at Kdan Mobile

Introduction to Contextual Inquiry: Dig into the Mind of the Users

Contextual Inquiry | A Dip into the Ways of Organizing Results Part I

Contextual Inquiry | Identify the Potential Obstacles

Creative Brainstorming Techniques: Customer Journey and Story Mapping

How to Deliver A Good User Experience

Feature image: BarbaraALane/ pixabay