Experiential Contextual Inquiry

Method suitability

Study type

XField studies
Lab studies
Online studies

Development phase

Early prototypes
Functional prototypes
XProducts on market

Studied period of experience

Before usage
XAn episode
Long-term UX

Evaluator / Info provider

XUX experts
XOne user at a time
Groups of users
Pairs of users




XWeb services
XPC software
XMobile software
XHardware designs


XTrained researcher
Special equipment


Observing the user in real context, researcher taking a role of an apprentice. The method was originally developed for understanding work practices*. When focus is on UX, the researcher pays attention to the emotional aspects of product use: not only the behavior but also the affective aspects of product use.
* "Contextual Inquiry: Field interviews with customers in their work places while they work, observing and inquiring into the structure of their own work practice."


Researcher acts as an apprentice: following how the participant uses the evaluated system, and asking why this way of use. To study experience, the apprentice pays special attention to what triggers positive or negative emotions, e.g., how the social context influences the experience.


Get real data in the real context of use.
Get information about the environment.
What is interesting is not what they say but what they do.


User may be disturbed and may not have the same behavior/experience as if he was not observed.

References describing the method

Original version of Contextual Inquiry is presented in the book by Beyer & Holzblatt: Contextual Design - defining customer-centered systems (1998).

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