# Contextual Inquiry

Contextual inquiries capture the real workflow, ambient conditions and usage context of an application.

Two persons during contextual inquiry

# Summary

Usually, contextual inquiries take place at the location of the interaction of the user with the system (most often the workplace of the user). Its purpose is the gathering of the usage context. Contextual inquiry is a type of interview that uses the master-apprentice principle. This means, that the interviewer takes over the role of a student who wants to learn from his master how he conducts his work.

Contextual inquiries are semi-structured interviews. The aim is not to follow a strict order of questions, but rather to create a comfortable atmosphere where the interviewee talks most of the time. The interviewer has prepared key questions to cover different aspects of the task. After every interview, these key questions should be revised and adapted according to recent aspects that require more insights.

# Result

Information about the real workflow and ambient conditions. The findings are documented in the form of personas, usage scenarios, and usage requirements. They form the basis for future usability tests.

# Approach

A careful selection of the interview partners is critical for successful contextual inquiries. Ideally, the interview partner is experienced with the application and highly communicative. For preparation, appointments have to be scheduled (plan 1.5 - 2 hours per Interview) and the interview guide with mainly open questions has to be prepared. Leave yourself about 15-30 minutes between the interviews in order to make notes.

At the beginning of the interview, it is important to create a comfortable atmosphere and to clarify that the interviewer aims to learn from the interviewee. It is not an exam and data will be treated confidentially and carefully. For documentation purposes sound, photo or video recordings are helpful. This requires a consent form and should not disturb the interviewee.

During the interview, the interviewer should be guided by the interviewee. The interviewer should not interrupt the interviewee but ask selective questions in order to cover all aspects.

After the interview, the recordings have to be analyzed and documented.

# Tools and Templates

  • interview guide
  • for documentation: photo/video camera or sound recorder [optional]

# Advantages

With contextual inquiries, the real and not the ideal workflow is precisely captured. This uncovers difficulties and workarounds in daily routine as well as aspects the user is not aware of. This method enables a flexible course which can be tailored to the requirements of the interviewee. Unlike a questionnaire, the interviewer can inquire when difficulties in understanding occur.

# Disadvantages

The quality of the results strongly relies on the experience and expertise of the interviewer. The interviewer has to take care not to influence the interviewee. Das Ergebnis ist abhängig von der Erfahrung und des Geschicks des Interviewers, auch um eine mögliche Beeinflussung auszuschließen. Contextual inquiries take a lot of time.

# References