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Design for How People Think by John Whalen

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Chapter 8 User Research: Contextual Interviews

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User Research: Contextual Interviews

Market research has taken many forms through the years. Some may immediately think of the kind of focus group shown in the TV show Mad Men. Others may think of large surveys, and still others may have conducted empathy research when using a design thinking approach to product and service design, which I’ll define later in this chapter.

While focus groups, surveys, and empathy interviews can be great tools to get to what people are saying, and maybe some of what they are doing, they don’t get to the why behind these behaviors. Nor do they get us the level of detail in analysis we would like to have to meaningfully influence product and service design decisions.

In this chapter, I’ll recommend a different take on market research that combines watching and interviewing people in their typical work or play, and interviewing them. If you’ve done some qualitative studies before, you might have a fair bit of interesting data to work with already. And if you don’t have that data, collecting it is within your grasp. What I’m proposing is designed so that anyone can conduct the research—no psychology PhDs or white lab coats required. It may be very familiar to my UX, psychology, and anthropology readers: it’s called a contextual interview.

Why Choose a Contextual Interview?

If I had to get to the essence of what a contextual interview is, I’d say “looking over someone’s shoulder and asking questions,” ...

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