Contextual inquiry (CI)

Synonyms: contextual interview

Is a user-centered design research method. Contextual inquiry is a combination of a user interview and a surveillance session carried out in the context the user is acting. In simple terms CI is about interviewing people while they are completing a task or doing something.

Contextual inquiry in three minutes


Steps & Tips

1. Preparations

Arrange and structure the partnership. It's about the idea that you are uniting to comprehend the activity of interest. Prepare your note structure. 


2. Interviews

Agree on clear instructions for both you and the participant. Prepare core questions in advance. Jump in with interview questions when appropriate. The main idea is ‘‘Show me how you do it‘‘.


3. Interpretation

Share your interpretation and insights with the user to make sure that you understood everything correctly. The user may extend or correct your understanding.


4. Analysis

Do this with other people on the team to take into account different points of view and perspectives. Together with the team try to make sense of the data across all the interviews.



  • Rich and nuanced insights
  • Reveals internal, invisible aspects
  • Can be used in various situations



  • Extremely resource-intensive and time-consuming

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