Identifying potential users' needs by using Contextual Inquiry, a user survey technique weighing on the observation of users' behavior

Does your website bring a sense of enjoyment and excitement to your target users, which makes them want to visit your website again and again? Are you sure that your website has never caused irritation and disappointment to your users? How the users experience your website is very important, as this will eventually affect your brand image. This also directly influences how frequently your users will access your website as well as the success of your web marketing. The more you consider your website as critical for your business, the more you will be affected by the quality of user experience.

We conduct a user survey using the Contextual Inquiry method to assess the user experience of your website that may significantly affect your web marketing and branding. In this process, we ask several users to visit your website and observe their behavior to identify problems and potential needs which even the users themselves do not recognize.

Service Overview

Our specialized analysts conduct a survey and analysis on the behavioral patterns and needs of your target users, and suggest plans for new website development or improvements.

Service Features

To identify the actual usage status of users and their potential needs, we observe users' behavior using Contextual Inquiry, one of the fieldwork methodologies commonly used in the field of anthropology. Contextual Inquiry is a method used to gather data to assess a users' work process and clarify their unconscious behavior: it is conducted by observing the normal activities of users who are given certain tasks using websites. One of the most popular Contextual Inquiry models is the ”Master/Apprentice Relationship“ proposed by user-interface designers Hugh Beyer and Karen Holtzblatt in their book “Contextual Design” (1997).

About a User Survey

1. How is this different from questionnaires and group interviews?

We cannot recall every activity of our own in the ordinary routines of daily life. To be more precise, this is not because we do not remember, but because we are acting unconsciously most of the time. Therefore, it is more likely that questionnaire surveys and group interviews are not effective enough to grasp actual users' experience associated with their activities.

2. How is this different from user testing?

User testing is a human-centered-design method where test participants are asked to operate a prototype website, and the evaluation on the website is made based on the results. The purpose of Contextual Inquiry is different. Contextual Inquiry is designed to discover users' behavioral patterns and potential needs which even the users themselves do not recognize.

3. Capturing the implicit knowledge behind users' conscious awareness by observing their behavior

Contextual Inquiry was developed based on a fieldwork methodology commonly used in the field of anthropology. In general, anthropologists conduct fieldwork to understand the lives of another culture and write a fieldwork report (ethnography), while living and communicating with people of the culture without a hypothesis but by observing their lives. Contextual Inquiry is the same. We conduct a survey using Contextual Inquiry to observe participants without a hypothesis. We let them to visit websites in the same manner they usually do and ask questions like when and how they use these websites and why they act in such ways in operating the websites, etc., as if we are the apprentices and the participants are our master. In this way, we objectively try to understand their behavior which they themselves do not recognize.

4. Analyzing the cause of problems by the Context Design Method

We usually think our daily behavior is very normal but others may consider it very strange, if they do not share the context of the situation that determines our behavior. In conducting fieldwork, researchers observe the daily behavior of people while experiencing the same context of situation. In this way, they discover behavioral problems and needs which people themselves do not recognize. A context design method is one of the structural analysis approaches based on the data gathered from such fieldwork studies. Website users are observed in their own environment, in order to understand the context of their work practices, which are modeled in five ways; that is, flow, sequence, artifact, cultural and physical models. In other words, their behavior is analyzed from several angles including sequence, communication flows, artifacts, documents, human relationships and operation environments relating to their work practices. In this way, interactional problems between the users and the website will be structurally analyzed and identified, and in the end, a re-designed website is suggested.

Service Flow

  1. Interviewing your staff to understand the purpose and issues of the survey
  2. Defining requirements
  3. Planning the survey
  4. Implementing the survey
  5. Analyzing data and creating a survey report
  6. Reporting
  7. Creating a persona-and-scenario based on the survey result (optional)

Supplemental Information

Create a clear image of target users of your website and web marketing, by describing their behavioral patterns on the website in minute detail from their viewpoint.

When Japanese products and services are to be introduced to international markets, we conduct studies to determine the receptiveness and user needs in the destination.

For more information on our services, timeframes and estimates, as well as examples of our work, please feel free to be in touch.



Mitsue-Links has been a partner of the UXalliance since 2007. The UXalliance is an international network encompassing over 250 usability professionals.


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