Shadowing in User Research - Do You See What They See?
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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.
Here’s the entire UX literature on Contextual Interviews by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:
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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’.
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By the end of the course, you’ll have not only a Course Certificate but also three case studies to add to your portfolio. And remember, a portfolio with engaging case studies is invaluable if you are looking to break into a career in UX design or user research!
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!