Home » What Is A Contextual Inquiry in UX Research?

What Is A Contextual Inquiry in UX Research?

What Is A Contextual Inquiry in UX Research?

Contextual Inquiry is a UX method used by researchers to study the context and the environment of a user’s experience. Researchers then use this information to better understand the users’ behavior and how they’re using and experiencing the product. A key benefit of contextual inquiries is that researchers discover things they would never anticipate and uncover hidden details that have become customary for the users.

By analyzing user behaviors and goals, the UX researcher can understand the psychological motivations behind how they’re using the product. This means that the UX researcher can be more attentive to those users who are frustrated and struggling to accomplish tasks.

When and why do we need to conduct contextual inquiries?

Contextual inquiries can help UX researchers identify opportunities to improve the product experience so that the customers will return to use the product again. Researchers will want to conduct a contextual inquiry when developing a new product to understand better how the customer uses and interacts with the product. They can help researchers understand how users perceive the product and its use, such as how the product is organized and the structure and navigation of the product.

Researchers can also use contextual inquiries to recognize shortcomings in the product, how to improve the product experience and identify areas that need improvement, such as the product’s security.

The objectives of conducting contextual inquiries include:

  • Re-establishing customer and product understanding.
  • Finding out issues that the research participants may have with the product or the problem they are solving.
  • Identifying and explaining issues within the product that researchers can solve or suggest solutions to.

There are three stages involved in conducting a contextual inquiry.

The three contextual inquiry stages include the introduction, the actual contextual inquiry exercise, and explaining results

Stage 1: Introduction

This is the stage where the researcher introduces themselves and explains the purpose of the research. Participants also are briefed about tasks they will have to perform.

Stage 2: Contextual Inquiry Exercise

The researcher asks participants to interact with the product during the contextual inquiry. By observing them at each stage of the product experience, the researcher can build a list of issues encountered with the product, which can be addressed in future design iterations. During this observation, the researcher often asks the participant to act as a teacher in the product’s usage and experience, while the researcher acts as a student and observer.

There are two models in contextual inquiries which can be used:

  • Active observation is when the researcher observes the user while interacting with the product and asks questions to collect more information.
  • Passive observation is when the researcher observes the participants interacting with the product and then only asks questions in the final stage.

With questions, researchers will be able to:

  • Understand the use case or problem as much as possible.
  • Identify gaps in the functionality or processes.
  • Review the interaction, user behavior, and user interface.
  • List the activities users are doing.
  • Identify potential solutions.

Stage 3: Explain Results

The next stage in the process is the final stage. During this stage, the researcher will discuss the analysis and explain the results to the participant. This stage is also when the researcher determines the direction the design team will follow to address the identified issues.

Contextual inquiries are an excellent way for product development teams to understand:

  • The user’s environment while using the product
  • The user’s expectations
  • The user’s likes and dislikes with the product
  • How the participant uses the product, including any habits and custom usage
  • What problems the user encounters while using the product

Researchers can start by creating a contextual inquiry and implementing it as part of the product development process.