Schlagwort: Requirements Analysis

Learning from the User – Contextual Interview

The contextual interview - a combination of observation and questioning of users

Known as a contextual interview or Contextual Inquiry in English, it enables the direct learning of various aspects about the user themselves, the usage, and the usage context from the product’s user. The combination of observation and questioning uncovers relationships and backgrounds that can be incorporated into the product development process.

Therefore, the contextual interview is sensibly placed at the beginning or in the creative phase of the product development cycle. In the five-stage Design Thinking process, the method can be used in the “Empathize” phase, which aims to build an understanding of the user. In medical technology, the contextual interview can be used as a User Research method for creating the Use Specification in the Usability Engineering process.

Preparation of the Contextual Interview

A contextual interview should be well prepared. This includes selecting suitable participants. It is advisable to consider each user group of the product.


It is often useful to include participants with different experiences to allow various perspectives on the product. For example, a relatively new user and a long-term, routine user can be approached for a contextual interview. The wider the range of participants, the more diverse and comprehensive the usage of the product can be captured.

Furthermore, thematic focuses and relevant questions to be emphasized during the interview should be prepared. A guide should be created for a structured process. However, the interviewer should also flexibly adapt the questioning to the observed aspects and the individual answers of the interviewed user. Often, the questions become sharper with each conducted contextual interview, as the understanding of the relevant aspects continuously expands.


The contextual interview is conducted in the field, i.e., in the user’s usual usage environment. Firstly, the user is observed during interaction. The questioning follows in the second step.

During observation, it is recommended that the interviewer remains as inconspicuous as possible in the background to avoid influencing the usual workflow. In some cases, it may be useful to ask occasional intermediate questions during the observation, but care should be taken not to throw the user off track.


„The less stressed and uncertain the user feels due to the observation, the more authentic and representative the observed use of the product is.”

To enable a detailed analysis at a later point, it is advisable to document the contextual interview using video or audio recording. This allows the interviewer to focus on the conversation and conduct it smoothly without interruptions for writing. Alternatively, the questioning can also be recorded by a note-taker. While this risks losing nuances of the conversation, it significantly accelerates the evaluation. A combination of both documentation methods enables the evaluation to be conducted based on the notes and to refer to the video or audio recording in case of uncertainties in the notes.

Topics of the Contextual Interview

Aspects that can be captured in a contextual interview include workflows, the individualization of the product, and difficulties in interaction. Also, when and how often the product is used can be of high relevance.

Observing the user allows the capturing of implicit knowledge. Implicit knowledge refers to knowledge that the user can apply in the relevant situation but otherwise cannot easily articulate in theory.

The best-known example is tying shoes, which is a daily task for most people. Yet, the exact procedure is difficult for many to describe. The same phenomenon can occur with the user’s routine interaction with a product, making it challenging to capture implicit knowledge in a general survey.

The work environment and influences such as noise or lighting conditions, as well as dependencies and communication with colleagues and superiors, can also be relevant factors and captured via the contextual interview. The use of aids or the transfer of information or products are often meaningful aspects that can be observed and questioned. For example, if data need to be imported or exported into the system, difficulties with the compatibility of file formats can arise, making integration into the user’s overall workflow difficult.

If the interviewer notices unusual interactions or user irritation during observation, these can be directly addressed in the interview. Specific behaviors can be questioned, thus uncovering connections and optimization potentials.

Working with the Results

After conducting the interview, the notes or video/audio recordings should be evaluated promptly using appropriate methods. The results can then, for example, be transferred into personas and scenarios suitable for communicating the results to all project participants.

Uncovered pain points and optimization potentials can be directly transferred from the evaluation into product development.

The disadvantage of the contextual interview is the time required for execution and evaluation. However, the method is well suited for a thorough, empirical analysis of usage requirements. It is particularly suitable for the further development of an existing product or for integrating a new product into an existing workflow.


Standards & References

Focus Group

The focus group - a creative discussion about the product with a diverse group of users

This method falls under User Research and aims to capture the usage requirements and needs of users for a product that is to be developed. Therefore, it makes sense to conduct the focus group during the creative phase, at the beginning of the development process. In the Design Thinking process, this means that the focus group should take place in the “Empathize” phase, the first phase. In Usability Engineering in medical technology, the focus group falls under the area of Use Specification. In the focus group, various concepts, early prototypes, and ideas are discussed with representative users. This means that the participants are selected to reflect the actual users. When choosing, demographic characteristics, prior knowledge of using the product, and relevant social and professional backgrounds should be considered.


„Depending on the product, new concepts can also be prototyped on the predecessor model or presented.“

The focus group is ideal for capturing the needs and feelings of users. However, it is not suitable for evaluating an interface, as group dynamics prevent the capture of an honest and heterogeneous opinion.

Preparation of Focus Groups

To achieve good group dynamics, the focus group should consist of 5 to 10 participants. Two employees are needed to conduct the focus group. One is the leader, who conducts the survey and guides the group discussion, and the other is a note-taker, who records the results. The note-taker’s goal is to capture the key points of the discussion, ideas, and concerns, and document open questions for the final discussion. Striking quotes or special situations should also be captured by the note-taker. To capture difficulties in using the product by participants or ideas and suggestions, photos should be taken during the focus group, which can be integrated into the evaluation.

The focus group must be thoroughly prepared. This includes generating the necessary prototypes or demonstration materials. Additionally, a procedure and a guideline for the topics to be discussed should be created. About two hours should be planned for the duration of the focus group. Within this time frame, the concentration and motivation of the participants can be maintained at a high level.

Procedure of a Focus Group

Typically, the focus group starts with the introduction of the focus group leader and the participants, as well as a brief introduction to the product under discussion.

Before the participants are allowed to inspect and test the product or prototypes, they are first questioned on a theoretical basis, e.g., using a questionnaire about the product. This first captures the initial overall impression, expectations, and fears of the participants before delving into specific details and aspects later in the discussion.

Only in the third step are the participants confronted with the product or prototype. The participants are asked to play through various scenarios with the product or prototype and discuss them. This step usually takes up the most time in the focus group. The leader’s task is to guide the discussion and address the ideas and opinions of the participants.

Various questioning techniques can be used for the group discussion. For example, different concepts can be presented, from which the participants choose the most suitable or prioritize them according to various aspects. Having the participants perform role plays or asking them to imagine how they would use the product in certain situations is suitable for this step.

Depending on the product, it may be useful to move to another room for this step, where the product or prototypes are set up, along with the materials needed for the group discussion.

In the final step with the participants, the focus group leader and the note-taker summarize the results and clarify the open questions noted by the note-taker. The participants are then thanked and dismissed.

Evaluation of Focus Groups

It is advisable for the focus group leader and the note-taker to sit down immediately after the focus group and reflect the results in a brief report. The notes can be used later for a detailed evaluation.


„A video or audio recording of the focus group can be very helpful for the evaluation. However, this increases the workload, and consent from the participants must be obtained.”

In addition to the results of the group discussion, it is important for the evaluation to consider the group dynamics. Key aspects here include whether the group was dominated by one or more participants or whether some participants held back. If aspects are discussed particularly intensively or heatedly, this reflects the relevance or the polarizing nature of the aspect. A focus should be placed on these aspects in the further development process. Peculiarities, such as specific word choices or frequent repetitions of the same statement, can also be insightful.

In general, conducting several focus groups enables a more diverse and representative result.


Standards & References