Module 2: Contextual Inquiry and UX Strategy


After doing this assignment, you should be able to:

  • Explain what a UX strategy is and define its scope for stakeholders and clients
  • Perform a contextual inquiry of users
  • Engage users as potential stakeholders within a design process
  • Create a persona, or prototypical user, from interview data


On this module, you are encouraged to use any technologies available to you, including word processors, web browsers, and online applications (e-mail, chat, blogging, productivity, workflow, etc.). We will cover some of these technologies as we go along, but you can use any that you are proficient with or want to experiment with on this module.

You will definitely need access to the following technologies to complete this module:

  1. A working and recently-updated Internet browser (Google Chrome, Firefox, or Safari are recommended)
  2. A word-processing application that allows for the production of documents in standard formats (.doc, .docx, .rtf, or .pdf; Microsoft Word, Open Office’s Writer, or Apple’s Pages are recommended)
  3. A reliable email client (Outlook, Apple’s Mail, or Gmail are recommended)
  4. A free Zoom account (or other video-conferencing software program)
  5. A mobile phone with voice recording (if doing face-to-face interview)


Users, as Leah Buley reminds us, are just people: people with particular values, needs, and workflows. As a rule, however, the individual needs of these people we call users will not line up. In fact, many of them won’t. Designing products and services that will meet the needs of such a complex social situation is tricky, to say the least, but it is key if you are to successfully help an organization develop a UX strategy, which should be the ultimate goal of every UX designer.

The best way to understand the culture of users surrounding a given product or service is to perform interviews and usability tests with key members of that culture. Your assignment for this module will thus be to perform user research on the organization you’ve chosen to work with this semester. You will interview actual users and develop personas from these interviews.

You will continue in your current teams for this module.

Deliverables You Must Produce for this Project

The following must be posted to Canvas by the following date / time:

  • Homework #2 – 2/3/22 by Midnight ET
  • An individual Cover Letter (including how you contributed to your team’s documents) and copies of your team’s Persona – 2/24/22 by Midnight ET

The following must be posted to this course website by the following date / time:

  • A copy of your team’s Persona – 2/17/22 by Midnight ET
  • An answer to my design question (see below) on the posts of each of your peers – 2/22/22 by Midnight ET


The primary audience for your module is myself, your project manager or UX lead, but users and other stakeholders of the organization you are designig for are an important audience to consider as well. I will of course also be your evaluator, and will assess your documents based on the grading criteria for this module.

To Complete This Project (Workflow)

1) 2/3/22 by Midnight Eastern Time >>

Do Homework #2

2) 2/3/22 – 2/17/22 >>

As with most forms of research, the best way to understand how a web application performs is by observing real people using it. This is called usability testing. At the same time, understanding someone’s individual context, culture, and background is just as important. This is called contextual inquiry.

I like to combine these two methodologies into something I call the Story/Test/Story method:

  1. Interview users about their backgrounds.
  2. Have them test core features of an application.
  3. Ask them what they thought about the application.

Here’s an example of this method in action: NC_Coastal_Atlas_Usability_Script.pdf

For learning purposes, however, we’re going to break this method up into its original two components:

  • User interviews
  • Usability testing

In this module, you’ll identify some potential users and interview them. You’ll first need to segment the user population for the application you’re testing and then round up about 3-5 members of each user group as a team. (This process is called “user (or customer) segmentation“).

To brainstorm user segments, think of:

  • Someone looking to buy a product or service from the website you are testing
  • Someone looking to find additional information on a topic related to the website you are testing
  • Someone looking to support a cause related to the website you are testing
  • Someone looking to partner with the organization who created the website you are testing

For each segment, you’ll need to brainstorm, based on information available on the website you’re testing, the following information for them. Choose 3 attributes from the following list you think are important to each user segment:

Demographics (age, gender, sexual preference, race, ethinicity, nationality, etc.)
Buying behavior
Customer type
Technical expertise
Domain knowledge
Web usage

How many segments should you have?

This is a hard question to answer. Your segments should be linked to the design problems you uncovered in Module #1. You need to get a sense of how individual users of the website you’re examining respond to it. And you need to understand what their goals are as a specific type of user (i.e., a donor of a non-profit).

Who to recruit for as your users and how to recruit them.

The only way I’ve ever been able to recruit test users is guerilla style: I think of people I personally know who don’t know about the application and who fit the user segment I’m testing. Then I contact those people and arrange a time to do a test with them.

So, for each of your user segments, come up with 3-5 people each member of your group personally know and have access to. This is called “convenience sampling.” You’re essentially identifying people in your personal network that fit the user segement you’re researching.

The new generation of software like UserTesting will find test users for you, but you won’t always have access to those technologies, so we’re going old school.

And yes: your cousin’s cousin’s cousin is fine. The point is that they fit the user segment you’re trying to learn more about. If you have problems, contact me.

How to conduct your interviews

  1. As a gropu, create a list of at least 3-5 people per user segment (e.g., if you identify 3 user segments, you need to interview 9-15 people!)
  2. Introduce yourself over email or phone and set an appointment to do a Zoom call (or some other kind of video call) with them. Alternatively, if they are in your local area, agree to meet with them at a coffee shop and other public venue. Explain to them that you’re going to be asking them for feedback about a piece of technology you’re trying to improve.
  3. Create a list of questions similar to those in the NC_Coastal_Atlas_Usability_Script.pdf that you think would make sense to the type of person you’re recruiting
  4. Do the interview and record it (Zoom) or just on your phone if it’s face-to-face. Also take notes on things you find interesting during the interview so you’re not looking at the footage from scratch.

Each individual group member should be present for at least three interviews. Otherwise, however you divide up the work is fine.

3) 2/17/22 by Midnight Eastern Time >>

As a team, analyze the data from your interviews and post a copy of your persona to this course website. Qualitative analysis during a UX project is very simple. Look through your data and try to identify patterns that seem important for the design project you are working on. The following questions will help you:

  • Were there closely-related themes that arose again and again in what participants said?
  • Where there important terms, images, problems, or issues that you noticed again and again?
  • Were there a lot of familiar plot points in the overall story you heard or saw?
  • What was distinct and different about each user (what didn’t match up with every other user)?

Next, craft your persona based on any of the persona templates you find online. I like this one.

You don’t need to send me a draft of your persona. Trust me on this. Every module we complete from now until the end of the class will basically be a rough draft for your team’s final project, which will be a collection of final versions of the deliverables from the modules. So: all the module deliverables will be rough drafts, so don’t freak out, okay? Just go through the process of the class, knowing you can revise all your deliverables for the final project.

4) 2/22/22 by Midnight ET >>

Post an answer to the following design question as a comment on the posts of each team’s persona on this course website.

Each module, I will ask you a design question, which you must post a response to as a comment on the posts of each of your peers. Your design question for this module is the following:

  • What do you think this teams persona(s) indicate about the needs and pain points of the user segments they identified? In other words: what are the most important things about these user segments that a redesign of their client’s website needs to accomodate?

5) 2/24/22 by Midnight ET >>

Revise all your documents and hand them in. The point of receiving feedback from your peers, and also from myself, is to help you improve your writing. This process will be negated if the draft you submit to the course website is the same as the draft you hand in as your final. Revise, revise, revise.

  • An individual Cover Letter (including how you contributed to your team’s documents) and a copy of your team’s Persona are due to Canvas by Midnight ET

Grading Criteria

Can be found here: grading criteria for this module