Contextual Inquiry: collecting data

    There are four kinds of information you should pay attention to when observing people at work. Each of these elements can be improvised or formal, shared or used alone, specific or flexible:

  1. The tools they use. This can be a formal tool, such as a specialized piece of software, or it can be an informal tool, such as a scribbled note. Note whether the tools are being used as they’re deigned, or if they’re being repurposed. How do the tools interact? What are the brands? Are the Post-its on bezel the monitor or on the outside flap of the Palm Pilot?
  2. The sequences in which actions occur. The order of actions is important in terms of understanding how the participant is thinking about the task. Is there a set order that’s dictated by the tools or by office culture? When does the order matter? Are there things that are done in parallel? Is it done continuously, or simultaneously with another task? How do interruptions affect the sequence?
  3. Their methods of organization. People cluster some information for convenience and some out of necessity. The clustering may be shared between people, or it may be unique to the individbeing observed. How does the target audience organize the information elements they use? By importance? If so, how is importance defined? By convenience? Is the order flexible?
  4. What kinds of interactions they have. What are the important parties in the transfer of knowledge? Are they people? Are they processes? What kinds of information are shared (what are the Inputs and outputs)? What is the nature of the interaction (informational, technical, social, etc.)?
  5. The influences of all four of these things will, of course, be intertwined, and sometimes it may be hard to unravel the threads. The participant may be choosing a sequence for working on data, or the organization of the data may force a certain sequence. Note the situations where behaviors may involve many constraints. These are the situations you can clarify with a carefully placed question or during the follow-up interview.

From: Kuniavsky, M (2003), Observing the User Experience: A Practitioner’s Guide for User Research, San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann, p. 171

Critique of technology-driven ‘user experience’

“Computer manufacturers aspire to designing computers as full-fledged’ consumer products and as part of that process they are concerned with creating the total user experience. Employing the phrase “user-experience design” as a reminder or motivator to designers to pay attention to people’s experience of technology is one thing. Employing the phrase to indicate that a particular user experience can be designed is another thing altogether. The latter suggests a return to the simplicity of a technologically determinist position on what experience is. This neglects the agency of people interacting with technology, a focus that has been hard won by the likes of Lave and Suchman. While giving those who use “experience design” and similar phrases the benefit of the doubt, it is part of the job of a book that claims to examine experience of technology to take the language of user experience seriously. For example, the Apple Macintosh Developer page defines “User Experience” as “a term that encompasses the visual appearance, interactive behavior, and assistive capabilities of software.” The orientation to user experience here is technology driven. Although the authors are interested in enriching user experience, they have a technological vision of how this can be achieved. Their approach is similar to the approach described in many books on designing web site user experiences. For example, although Garrett (2002) attends to both business and user needs in his book directed at improving user experience of web sites, his attempt to resolve them depends on a conceptual integration of information design, information architecture, and interface design.”

From: Mc Carthy, J. and Wright, P. (2004), Technology as Experience, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, p. 9-10

User as a two-component-system: physical/cognitive processor

“Earlier, it was asserted that usability-based approaches tend to encourage human factors specialists to consider people as processors. Physical processors with attributes such as strength, height and weight, and cognitive processors with attributes such as memory, attention and expectations. Here, then, the user is often looked at as being simply a cognitive and/or physical component of a three component system – the other two components being the product and the environment. It could be argued that the traditional human factors approaches to people ignore the very things that make us human – our emotions, our values, our hopes and our fears.
In order to find a way into these issues, we need to have an understanding not only of how people use products, but also of the role that those products play in people’s lives. This gives a chance to understand how the product relates to the person in a wider sense than just usability and can help the human factors specialist in gaining a wider view of the user requirements – the requirements for pleasure.”

From: Jordan, P. W. (2002), ‘Human factors for pleasure seekers’ in ed. Frascara, J. Design and the Social Sciences: Making Connections, London: Taylor & Francis, p.16

Achieving pleasurability

“Having gotten used to usable products, it seems inevitable that users will soon want something more. Products that offer something extra. Products that are not merely tools, but which are “living objects” which people can relate to. Products that bring not only functional benefits but also emotional benefits. To achieve product pleasurability is the new challenge for human factors. It is a challenge that requires an understanding of people-not just as physical and cognitive processors-but as rational and emotional beings with values, tastes, hopes and fears. It is a challenge that requires an understanding of how people relate to products. What are the properties of a product that elicit particular emotional responses in a person. How does a product design convey a particular set of values? Finally, it is a challenge that requires capturing the ephemeral-devising Is and metrics for investigating and quantifying emotional responses.”

From: Jordan, P. W. (2002), ‘Human factors for pleasure seekers’ in ed. Frascara, J. Design and the Social Sciences: Making Connections, London: Taylor & Francis, p.14

Hierarchy of user needs

    The User needs hierarchy (variation of Maslow’s pyrmaid) has three levels

  1. Functionality
  2. Usability
  3. Pleasure

“Abraham Maslow (1970) developed a “hierarchy of human needs.” This model views the human as a “wanting animal” who rarely reaches a state of complete satisfaction. Indeed, if a nirvana is reached it will usually only be temporary because once one desire has been fulfilled another will soon surface to take its place. The idea is that as soon as people have fulfilled the needs lower down the hierarchy, they will then want to fulfill the needs higher up. This means that even if basic needs such as physiological needs and safety have been met, people will still et with frustration if their higher goals are not met.”

From: Jordan, P. W. (2002), ‘Human factors for pleasure seekers’ in ed. Frascara, J. Design and the Social Sciences: Making Connections, London: Taylor & Francis, p.13


“A wireframe is a simplified view of what content will appear on each screen of teh final product, usually devoid of colour, typographical styles, and images. Also known as schematics, blueprints, prototypes.”

From: Brown, Dan (2007), Communicating Design, Berkeley: New Riders, p.265

Flow charts (vs. site map)

“Flow charts attempt to visualize a process, usually centered around a specific task or function, For web-based processes, flow charts often represent a series of screens that collect and display infromation to the users. Also known as flows, user flows, process charts.”

“What seperates a flow from a site map is that in the former, time is the defining factor. The relationships between the steps are sequential, not structural or hierarchichal . While site maps capture an information structure that may or may not match the user’s experience of the site, a flow chart defines a process from beginning to end.

From: Brown, Dan (2007), Communicating Design, Berkeley: New Riders, p. 229


“Sitemap is a visual representation of a web site’s structure. Also known as structural model, taxonomy, hierarchy, navigation model, or site structure.”

From: Brown, Dan (2007), Communicating Design, Berkeley: New Riders, p. 199

Content audit and content inventory

“Content inventory is a list of all the information contained in a web site, along with data that describes the information from several points of view, like target audience or location. Also known as a content analysis or content audit (…)

The main distinction between these two documents [content inventory and content audit] is the level of granularity. In essence, the distinction is how much of the site you describe. With an inventory, the intent is to capture and describe every piece of content on the site. A content audit captures and describes less, focussing perhaps on the main content areas of the site or the top two levels of navigation after the home page. An audit establishes a boundary around the scope of the investigation.”

From: Brown, Dan (2007), Communicating Design, Berkeley: New Riders, p.167