To learn how and why users do what they do; to discover needs and attitudes that might not emerge in an interview to map how tools, digital and otherwise, interact during complex activities. The product team unobtrusively observes participants at work, with their permission, then asks questions.
This is a semi-structured interview method to obtain information about the context of use. Users are first asked a set of standard questions and then observed and questioned while they work in their own environments.
Four principles define the contextual inquiry method:
1. Context: To understand the ongoing experience and tacit knowledge of the worker, it is critical to observe details in context.
2. Partnership: This is similar to a master/apprentice model, watching, asking questions, and seeking to understand how the data more reliably reflects reality. Talk to customers about their work and engage them in uncovering unarticulated aspects of work
3. Interpretation: What researchers see and hear must be interpreted for meaning and double-checked with participants on-site. Develop a shared understanding with the customer about the aspects of work that matter
4. Focus: The researcher must learn to expand beyond personal focus to see more in the participant’s world, picking up on idiosyncrasies and contradictions. Plan for the inquiry, based on a clear understanding of purpose
This is used to understand communication flows, sequence of tasks, artifacts, tools, and the influence of culture and the physical environment on work.
Interview multiple people in different user segments before synthesizing contextual inquiry findings.