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

The road to success is paved with dedication and determination. To create a product that is sought for in the market and becomes the great companion of users requires extensive research and careful planning. At Kdan Mobile, we believe that an attractive and desirable product must be user friendly and tailored to the users’ need. In the last blog post from the series , we summarized the 4 stages of app development, and today we will dig deeper into the first two stages – discover and define, to look into a user-centered design  research method known as contextual inquiry.

As a designer, it is necessary to understand the users and their work practices, in order to design a product that meets their real needs. Good designs don’t come by just sitting in a room with a pen in hand; you have to go out, talk to people, brainstorm and work with others. It is not uncommon for designers to be so absorbed in their world that they rely on their own experience as a user rather than their users’. So when designing, not only is it important to design a product that is original and innovative but also suitable for the end users. A way of achieving this is through contextual inquiry.

4 Key Principles of Contextual Inquiry

Contextual inquiry is a research method to observe user behaviors in different contexts, and to further improve the existing service interface based on the findings and perspective of the end user. The 4 principles of contextual inquiry are: context, partnership, interpretation and focus.

Context Principle – to understand the users’ real needs by capturing user behavior in real workplace. It gives the researchers a chance to experience the users’ working environment first-hand as well as inquire the users about their day to day tasks. This enables the researchers to collect the most authentic and realistic results.

Partnership Principle – to work closely with the end users like partners in order to identify the explicit and implicit aspects of their work. Deeper understanding of the users can be developed through partnership and corporation.

Focus Principle – to be clear of the aims and areas of concern to the design project, which would lead the researchers to stay focus on the relevant details rather than diverting in different directions. Researchers can also steer the conversations by listening carefully and seeking for clear answers.

Interpretation Principle – to carefully note down your findings during the inquiry by using bullet points and quotation marks to clearly indicate the direct words said by the users. Detailed note-taking is vital for accurate interpretation, as facts should be separated from any assumptions. Throughout the inquiry, the researchers should remain transparent with the users by sharing the hypothesis and analysis from the collected information, including the meaning and implication behind user action. This would also help to create a trusting relationship between the researchers and users for collecting more reliable information.

The above principles should be your guide to conducting contextual research. But the process doesn’t end here. In order to make use and synthesize the data collection to improve usability, the next analysis step is crucial. We will explain this further in the next blog post of the series. In the meantime, you can start by thinking about how you can incorporate contextual inquiry into your design process!

Coming up next:

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

Contextual Inquiry II: Identify the Potential Obstacles

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Feature image: Jay Mantri/