A contextual inquiry interview is usually structured as an approximately one and half to two hour, 1on1 interaction in which the researcher watches the user do their normal activities and discusses what they see with the user. Contextual inquiry interview has the following advantages:
- Open-ended nature of the interaction makes it possible to reveal tacit knowledge , knowledge about their own work process that users themselves are not consciously aware of, which was very hard for researchers to uncover.
- The information produced by contextual inquiry is very detailed. Other research methods such as surveys produce high-level information but not the detailed work practice data needed to design products. It is very difficult to get this level of detail any other way.
- Information produced by contextual inquiry is highly reliable. Surveys and questionnaires assume the questions they include are important. Traditional usability tests assume the tasks the user is asked to perform are relevant. Contextual inquiries focus on the work users need to accomplish, done their way—so it is always relevant to the user. Since it’s their own work, the users are more committed to it than they would be to a sample task.
- Contextual inquiry is a very flexible technique. Contextual inquiries have been conducted in homes, offices, operating theaters, automobiles, factory floors, construction sites, maintenance tunnels, and chip fabrication labs, among many other places.
Since it’s a very productive research method, Smartdesign has done dozens of contextual inquiry interview projects for our clients in past. We have done dozens of contextual inquiry interview projects in different cities in China, from the Northeast city Dalian and Shenyang to Southeast city Guangzhou and Shenzhen, from Southwest city Chengdu to east city Shanghai and Nanjing.
Our experience covers hardware products, i.e. printer and home appliances, software, i.e. commercial desktop application and mobile app. Since we have a very strong foundation – participant recruitment, we always bring useful insights to our clients through contextual inquiry interview.