With Contextual Inquiry, we help you collect data about what your customers really do, think and value in a way that eliminates the problems with traditional “voice of the customer” activities. Our data is collected in context, in the real world where people live, work and play. It’s represented in a way that is actionable for design. And it’s gathered using a trainable, repeatable, structured process that is easily incorporated with your company’s development practices.

Understand your customers

Your customers are the experts at what they do — but you can’t depend on them to tell you. Like all experts, their behaviors, values and attitudes become habitual, all but invisible to them. It’s why the best players rarely make the best coaches. And it’s also why focus groups and surveys by themselves are often incomplete, overly general and too often misleading.

With Contextual Inquiry we take you into your customer’s real world, and collect data about people in their workplaces, homes, cars or wherever the real action is. We partner with customers to draw out and record the way things really work, and reveal the important details that are useful for design.

Characterize your market

Contextual Design’s work models, affinity and personas represent your customer data in a structured format that allows you to see common patterns without losing individual detail. This allows you to characterize your whole customer population — the markets, departments, or organizations that will use your product or system. Because your data is structured, you can add to your customer understanding over time as you collect more data. And the models give everyone on your team — marketers, designers, product managers and engineers — a common language to talk about customer needs.

Map your business process

By gathering customer data where the work is happening, we can help you reveal the messy details of business life that you might miss with other methods: the workarounds, the politics, the unspoken ways things “really work around here.” Deeply understanding these realities augments your business analysis and helps you define the right requirements for your new process or system.  And our work models give your team — business experts, business analysts, process modelers and IT — a common framework to discuss user needs.

Identify the essential requirements

Your customers ask for features — more features than your organization can hope to implement. By understanding the real customer problems behind these requests, you can identify simpler and more powerful solutions that actually have fewer requirements and are easier to develop and use. Sometimes, when customers ask for A, B, and C — the real solution is D!

A repeatable process complements your development practices

Too often, efforts to understand the customer are ineffectual or wasted because it’s hard to figure out how to make customer data useful to the development community and others involved in implementation.

At InContext, we have real-world experience you can leverage incorporating customer data with Agile, RUP and other software development processes. Whether you’re a marketing manager, business analyst or a product manager, you need to know that investment in customer understanding will yield results in the development process. We can help.