Principals of Contextual Inquiry

One of my favorite quotes from this chapter: “Articulating work structure and correcting design ideas during the interview gives the customer the power to shape the way designers think about the work.” (p.54) I really like the idea that by sharing design ideas, the designer can empower the customer. The customer starts to understand how technology can be used to address some of the challenges they are facing, and can then contribute to the design process. This mutual exchange of information benefits both partners as they teach each other about their own areas of expertise though the modified master and apprentice relationship.

I also found the tips to steer the interviewee away from summarizing and toward concrete examples incredibly helpful. Being in the physical context of the workplace and the temporal context of the work task will help the interviewee talk about ongoing experience, rather than a general summary of their experience. Talking about real artifacts and asking for specific examples will help the interviewee talk about their work in a concrete, rather than abstract, way.

It was interesting to read about the different triggers an interviewer should pay attention to so they know when to change the focus of their exchange with the customer. These triggers caution the interviewer to not dismiss strange ways of working as irrelevant, and to continuously question their own assumptions about what is really going on in the work process. “Using the customer to break your paradigm intentionally counterbalances the natural propensity to design from assumptions.” (p.64) As we are frequently told, “you are not your users.”


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