Contextual Inquiry is an ethnographic interviewing technique that mix observation with interviews in real context. This methodology was first theorized by Hugh Beyer and Karen Holtzblatt who enumerated four basic principles for running this type of research:
– Users should be interviewed in the context where the activity happens.
– It’s important to have an ‘apprentice attitude’ and treat the interviewed as the ‘expert’
– Designers should always verify their assumptions with users
– Contextual Inquiry should make the participants having an informal chat (avoid a set of fixed questions such as questionnaires).
Allan Cooper in About Face 3, revisit this methodology by expanding the application of the methodology to non-business oriented contexts, making the interview shorter in time (1 hour vs 1 day), use smaller design teams (max 3 designers), be less task focused and more goal oriented.
To run successful contextual inquiry session, it’s important to listen to customers, encourage show and tell, access participants previous experience or envision the future using storytelling, avoid technical discussions.
Alan Cooper, Robert Reimann, and Dave Cronin, About Face 3 (Indianapolis: Wiley Publishing Inc, 2007)