Contextual interviews

User researchers on a site visit observing someone use a mobile device

Carefully observing people in the settings where they live, work, learn, or play is the basis of a powerful research method called contextual interviewing. Using this method, Blink researchers combine observations of real people engaging in topics of interest with periodic questions to better understand their specific actions, behaviors, and thoughts. Contextual interviews focus on how people accomplish things in their own way.

Our aim in contextual interviews is to address the design or research questions at hand by observing and gathering information from people without interfering in their routines or tasks. We walk away from each study session armed with a detailed view of how study participants get things done. Later, we synthesize raw data from these interviews to craft insights and opportunities for our clients.

Contextual interviews are a way to learn or apprentice from study participants. Blending traditional interviewing and ethnography, contextual interviews reveal ways that people actually use digital products and services, which can be surprising and full of workarounds. This method can also be used to explore how people could use a new digital product that does not currently exist. The result is detailed data about workflows and work practices needed to inform product design and engineering.

Task analysis, an occasional output of contextual inquiries, involves deconstructing tasks of interest into simpler, discrete components. Tasks are defined and lists are made of the steps involved to achieve task goals. Task analysis helps identify critical elements of a task, potential usability problems, and aspects of a user interface that may have been overlooked.

Conducting contextual studies in international markets uncovers important cultural and societal variables that impact the usability and acceptance of products by their intended users. We have conducted research in many international markets including Japan, China, Australia, India, and Brazil as well as across Europe and North America.

Shop-along or retail experience studies combine aspects of contextual inquiry with marketing research techniques. In these studies, Blink researchers seek to understand how consumers make decisions about their technology and other product purchases. We conduct pre-shopping interviews to understand shopping goals, “shadow” shoppers who have opted into the study to observe behaviors, and then conduct post-purchase interviews to ask participants to reflect on key decision points.