Contextual Inquiry II: Identify the Potential Obstacles

In the previous blog Contextual Inquiry I, we have introduced the two most commonly used models of context inquiry for app designing at Kdan Mobile. The main objective of contextual inquiry is to gain an in-depth understanding of the process individuals undergo to accomplish a task through the observation of user behavior in their natural working environment. This week, we look into three other models: the Culture Model, the Artifact Model, and the Physical Model. These models, though traditionally not used much in app design, enable app developers to build better user interface and stronger interaction among users.

The Culture Model

The purpose of cultural model is to unveil the factors inside the workplace culture which could affect the user behavior or even constrain them from accomplishing tasks. The common influences are standards, expectations, policies, power, values, group identity, emotions, styles and preference.

Taking apparel shopping as an example, a shopper takes fashion trends, budget, peer pressure into consideration when shopping. It can even be seen that a shopper chooses particular items to represent his or her identity rather than for the clothing itself. Social media and many online shopping sites are experts in this and they use these influences to pull sales. Conventionally we relate the culture model to marketing strategies, however it can improve the effectiveness of policies and service flow. With this model, researchers can identify the influences explicitly, which then in turns enable the product designers to be aware of these potential constraints.

Cultural Model

Source: APPetite

Symbols used in culture model



The Artifact Model

The artifact model shows artifacts used to accomplish a task; these artifacts tell a story about the work, revealing the assumptions, concepts, strategy and structure at work. It presents the design, shape, color, and other physical attributes created to support the users. Researchers observe how a user uses the artifacts to carry out the tasks, and they note down any obstacles.

To put this into context, let’s examine the control panel in a car, in which there are various artifacts that are carefully considered during the design process . The switches for screen wipers, direction indicators and lights are placed in a way that the driver can reach them effortlessly. The speedometer is displayed with soft white or blue LED to limit the brightness when driving in the dark.

An app interface can also be seen as a form of artifacts even though it is digital. To test the suitability of each feature within an app and the layout, A/B testing is used – a process flow that is used throughout app design process at Kdan. By observing users, we can get direct feedback that helps to improve the current apps. Taking Animation Desk Cloud as an example, the tool panel is designed to be movable in order to be both right-hand and left-hand friendly.


Source: incontext

The Physical Model

This model focuses on the physical environment where the work is accomplished, and the working environment could either support or hinder work. It represents the places in which work occurs and the structures that limit and define the working space, such as the size of room and desk. Researchers record users’ activity in this environment, including their moving path, usage of the objects, and interaction with other users.

Traditionally, the physical model is used to improve the layout of a work space, but it also plays an important role in new technologies such as virtual reality and smart home, as the space where the products are used highly influences how the product should be designed.


Source: Stolle Creative

All the effort on contextual effort is made to understand the behavioral patterns of users. Our next post in the series will focus on introductions of brainstorming techniques that help a team turn research findings into the flesh and blood of products and services.

You might also be interested to the following posts,

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

Feature Image: BarbaraALane/pixabay