Methods Madness: Contextual Inquiry

January 17, 2011

User research guru Mike Kuniavsky writes, “People tend to idealize their needs and desires, and their statements often don’t correspond to their actual needs and behavior.”  So, people may not be great observers of their own experience.  Thank goodness researchers are around to get to the bottom of this!  Not so fast says Kuniavsky.  Researchers have problems of their own:  “When we try to put ourselves into others’ shoes, we idealize and simplify.”  Given the mutual blind spots of observer and observed, how can researchers ensure 1) that what people tell us they want is what they actually want and 2) that we understand what they are telling us?  One way to get a clearer picture of the facts is to use more than one method of inquiry.   Here is a short video I made which illustrates how documentation of the built environment can amplify our understanding of specific groups of communications technology users.

Contextual Inquiry @ Listening House from Deep Tech on Vimeo.

In response to an invite to drop in on a design research class taught by our friend Laura Forlano, we created this video as a classroom tool to elaborate on how contextual inquiry / visual anthropology / documentation of the built environment can help us understand communication technology users’ needs.

Teachers may find it useful to have students view the first half of the video to see what they can determine from the photos. Then discuss before viewing the second half.

Since we created it, we’ve heard from our host organizations Listening House, Open Access Connections and Voices for Change that they too have found it helpful for spurring discussion around the communication needs of the homeless and very low-income.

Please feel free to use this video. Let us know if you find it useful.

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Methods Madness, Social Impact, Systems, User Experience