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Contextual InterviewingMethod

During contextual interviews, researchers watch and listen as users work in the user’s own environment, as opposed to being in a lab. Contextual interviews tend to be more natural and sometimes more realistic as a result. They are also usually less formal than lab tests and don't use tasks or scripts.

In a contextual interview, you watch and listen as the user works. You don't usually give the user tasks or scenarios. To understand what a user is doing or thinking you can ask questions as the user navigates the site. The results are usually qualitative, observed data, rather than quantitative, measured data.


Contextual Interviewing is often more effective when it is informed by these complementary methods.


  1. Introduce yourself and build rapport with the user
  2. Transition from a traditional interview to a master-apprentice model. Tell the participant that you want to learn by watching and asking questions, as if you were an apprentice learning how to do their job
  3. Observe. Resist the temptation to continually ask questions. The observation phase is where you should spend the bulk of your time.
  4. Interpret: verify your assumptions and conclusions with the participant.
  5. Summarize. Immediately at the end of each sessions, write down your immediate thoughts and observations.


Contextual Interviewing typically produces insight and solutions focused on these areas:

  • User Goals

    The outcomes that users hope to accomplish with a site, service, or resource.

  • User Behavior

    Information about how users currently use a site, service, or resource.

  • User Preference

    Elements, arrangements, or qualities of experience design that user state or show are valuable to them.

Contextual Interviewing Resources

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