Contextual Interviews

Your constantly-updated definition of Contextual Interviews and collection of videos and articles

What are Contextual Interviews?

A contextual interview, or contextual inquiry, is a user research method specifically designed to provide insight into the environment or context in which a design will be used. A contextual interview session typically consists of a mix between a traditional user interview and observations of how the research participants use a product or service in the relevant context.

Contextual interviews were originally developed to research how complex systems were used in the context of work; however, they have since become used more generally for understanding how people use technology in certain contexts. A contextual interview starts with a one-on-one user interview, followed up with an observation session where the interviewer observes how the research participant uses the product or service. The participant is treated as an expert on how to use the product, and is sometimes asked to explain how to interact with it as though explaining it to a novice user. Thus, as the designer’s role “reverses” so as to examine how well a user has grasped the design’s intricacies, issues arising during the interview can also flag problem areas and instances of appropriation (where users find adjunct or unexpected uses for the piece in question).

Contextual interviews are particularly beneficial in that it enables the interviewer to gather information in the moment and context of use—especially advantageous when researching complex systems or work processes. They can help bridge insight gaps from the designer’s viewpoint, expose shortcomings in design considerations, and ultimately optimize the overall design of a product.

Literature on Contextual Interviews

Here’s the entire UX literature on Contextual Interviews by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about Contextual Interviews

Take a deep dive into Contextual Interviews with our course User Research – Methods and Best Practices .

How do you plan to design a product or service that your users will love, if you don't know what they want in the first place? As a user experience designer, you shouldn't leave it to chance to design something outstanding; you should make the effort to understand your users and build on that knowledge from the outset. User research is the way to do this, and it can therefore be thought of as the largest part of user experience design.

In fact, user research is often the first step of a UX design process—after all, you cannot begin to design a product or service without first understanding what your users want! As you gain the skills required, and learn about the best practices in user research, you’ll get first-hand knowledge of your users and be able to design the optimal product—one that’s truly relevant for your users and, subsequently, outperforms your competitors’.

This course will give you insights into the most essential qualitative research methods around and will teach you how to put them into practice in your design work. You’ll also have the opportunity to embark on three practical projects where you can apply what you’ve learned to carry out user research in the real world. You’ll learn details about how to plan user research projects and fit them into your own work processes in a way that maximizes the impact your research can have on your designs. On top of that, you’ll gain practice with different methods that will help you analyze the results of your research and communicate your findings to your clients and stakeholders—workshops, user journeys and personas, just to name a few!

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We believe you should learn from the best, so we’ve gathered a team of experts to help teach this course alongside our own course instructors. That means you’ll meet a new instructor in each of the lessons on research methods who is an expert in their field—we hope you enjoy what they have in store for you!

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Interaction Design Foundation - IxDF. (2016, May 25). What are Contextual Interviews?. Interaction Design Foundation - IxDF.

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