User Experience Designer
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Contextual Research

 

What  is Contextual Research? 

From what I've learned thus far, contextual research is about using empathy and observation to better understand users and their interactions, in hopes of discovering insights. In this course we studied from Vijay Kumar's 101 Design Methods and used his method to dictate our research methodologies. I fell in love with the process and my empathetic characteristics were highlighted in the process of trying to fully understand the user and their needs. 

 
 
 Photo from Vijay Kumar's 101 Design Methods

Photo from Vijay Kumar's 101 Design Methods

Our Method

These seven techniques were what our professor taught us to use to guide our research. It was challenging at first to hold off and stick to the step we were at but that patience proved itself as the process continued. 

To begin the class, our professor challenged us with the topic, millennials and the future of education. From there we spent the next nine weeks with a team made up of other students in our class exploring what all there was that could be included in this area. My team consisted of a service designer, three industrial designers, and myself a user experience designer. Key roles I played were in the preliminary research, affinitization, and some project management. 

 
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1. Sense intent

In Sense Intent, our goal was learn about what we were entering into, to start the research process. I did Key Facts research to begin getting an idea about what information was available on millennials and education.This involved defining the general topic, using reliable sources for data, and casting a wide net of what to search. Next I organized the data by topic and found areas that could use supplemental research. 

Observations were another key piece to Sense Intent. In our case, finding out how millennials were interacting with their educational resources. We were practicing keeping our own biases and assumptions out of the equation, strictly keeping to what we saw. 

 
 Organizing our questions into each category to ensure we had a fair share in each department. 

Organizing our questions into each category to ensure we had a fair share in each department. 

2. Know context 

In, Know Context, our goal was to learn and gain insights about the topic. In this step we would be better prepared to springboard into deeper explorations of potential opportunities. From this process I was able to practice writing more effective questions and discovered the importance of how to order my questions. 

I found it is most effective to start with open questions, move into brain and heart based questions, and then touch into solution oriented questions as we go, but that it is still important to give lighter questions along the way. In my personal interview, I found it was effective to start with some “getting to know you”type questions to break down the walls that come with talking with someone new.

 
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3. Know People

In, Know People, we wanted to learn our customer. We desired to empathize with them and understand where their current problems and pain points are.

We began by conducting a cultural probe. Before we started designing, we took some of our most intriguing data points and used those as a guide to what new information we were hoping to receive. As we experimented with questions and overall design, we wanted to keep an unbiased approach to have the least impact on their answers. From our cultural probe, we had about 30 data sets and 140 data points collected.

 
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4. frame insights

In Frame Insights, we took our research from the last few weeks and tried to bring some understanding to it in hopes of finding insights.

Affinitization was the key method for this part of research. We had collected about 460 data points and wrote them each out on a post it note, from there we were able to sort and organize them in hopes of finding insights. After the initial affinitization we did two more levels of organization to find the big topics. We found that there were more new data points that contained a theme of anxiety than of technology, which was a surprise to us. From there we had a topic to finish our research towards. 

 
 My teammate writing out what we came up with during a design friction exercise. 

My teammate writing out what we came up with during a design friction exercise. 

5. explore concepts

In Explore Concepts, we began moving into what would be possible with our data and findings. 

In our design friction exercise, we were challenged with the idea to fill in the phrase, “In a world where (blank) and (blank), (blank), envision a (blank) that improves (blank) and a feeling of (blank.) We were charged to come up with contradictory statements that wouldn’t be ordinarily paired together and how those ideas could be a reality.

 
 Our team at the bookstore analyzing magazine formatting for us to remember when designing our own with the final insights. 

Our team at the bookstore analyzing magazine formatting for us to remember when designing our own with the final insights. 

6. Frame solutions and 7. realize offerings

In our process, we combined these two ideas in our final steps. Hopefully in further editions of this research there will be possible real world solutions to offer.

In Frame Solutions, we worked on organizing our findings and insights into a final product, a way to display the research and findings. And in Realize Offerings, we considered real world applications from the insights acquired over the quarter.

Now that we had collected all this data and research, we were ready to explore it and how to show our discoveries in a magazine format.

We worked together to determine which topics should be translated into an article, advertisement, public service announcement, or infographic.

 

lessons learned