Contextual Inquiry is a deeper form of ethnographic interview and observation. In this research method, users are asked a set of standard questions and are then observed and questioned while they are at work in their own setting or “context”. The purpose is to gain a better understanding of work practices and behaviors.
This technique is particularly useful for developing accurate scenarios – the stories of how users might interact with potential features. It is also a great way to indentify aspects of the user’s environment that will affect how someone might use a particular product.
We often apply this technique by asking a user to perform a typical task or series of tasks in a website or application they currently use. If the application is still under development, we’ll ask a user to perform a scripted task for a mockup of the future application, with particular focus on key features or workflows.