Contextual Inquiry

Assigned: February 4
Due: February 18, Before Class

In this assignment you will use the contextual inquiry methodology to learn more about the work practices of your target users. The interviews will help you perform a task analysis of your idea. Try to focus on as specific a group of users as you can. It will be easier and more effective to develop an application that helps a specific group of users such as backpackers visiting Berkeley from Japan who don't know any English, rather than all backpackers visiting the US.

Finally, you will design rough sketches of your proposed user interface. Be sure to start early on this assignment. It will take time to schedule users for interviews, and the bulk of the assignment is based on your interview data. Remember, extensions cannot be given for group assignments.

This assignment is 10% of your overall grade, which has been broken down into 60 points for grading. The breakdown of points is discussed below.

What to Do:

  1. Interview at least three (3) target users (not classmates and ideally they should not be your friends either) using contextual inquiry. You should carefully choose your target user group. Try to be as focused as possible and address the needs of a specific group.
  2. Answer the 11 task analysis questions presented in class. The questions can be found on slide 12 of the Task Analysis/CI lecture.
  3. Describe 6 tasks in moderate detail that users will perform with your application. There should be two (2) each of easy, moderate, and difficult tasks. Explain why you rated each task as easy, moderate or difficult.
  4. Based on your analysis and tasks, explain your proposed interface. Describe in text and support your description with rough sketches of important screens. You should include a sequence of screen shots or dialog segments your application will use to support 3 (1 easy, 1 moderate, and 1 difficult) of the 6 tasks you chose earlier.
  5. Finally you should explain how your application differs from existing mobile applications.

Here's a little more detail on the various elements of this assignment.

Contextual Inquiry
We will grade this based on the quality of your method in finding representative users and and how much you discover about any issues you might be able to resolve with an interactive system. For example, if you were designing a drag and drop scheduling application:

  • Bad: You do a contextual inquiry with your roommates and they complain about how slow Telebears is and that navigation is difficult. The problem here is that you are not getting a good enough selection.
  • Better: You do a contextual inquiry with a selection of graduate students in different departments (and they don't all live with you)
  • Great: You do a contextual inquiry with graduate students, staff, and undergraduates. You discover that graduate students only take two classes. Staff members don't take classes but only schedule meetings, which do not always meet at the same time every week. Undergraduates have too many classes, so drag and drop might clutter the interface.

You should focus on a specific set of target users and then pick as varied a set of subjects within the user group as you can.

Analysis of Tasks
You should choose good representative tasks that span a variety of different scenarios, instead of just being variations on a theme. Your project should not try to solve a problem that is too simple or too complicated. Suppose you are designing an auction website (eBay):

  • Bad: Your tasks all revolve around making the checkout better. For example, an easy task is to checkout with one item, a medium task is to checkout with three items, and a hard task is to checkout with a different credit card then you normally use.
  • Better: Your easy task is to find an item you are interested in purchasing. Your medium task is to place a bid on an item. Your difficult task is to set up a watchlist for a group of items you are interested in.

Interface Design
This is the first real glimpse we've seen of your interface, so we care about the amount of thought you've put into coming up with an interface paradigm which can realistically evolve into a useful final product. Of course, we also want to see a good spread of activities in the tasks that you choose. Back to the eBay example:

  • Bad: Your storyboards involve a user logging into the auction site and choosing between two options: "change my password" and "search." Obviously, your final product will house a lot more complexity than just two options at the outset, so it would be wise to spend some more time thinking through the navigation.
  • Also Bad: Two of your tasks involve changing your user password, and the third with setting other preferences. This is bad because not only are two of your tasks exploring one part of your interface, all three are presumably relatively unimportant to the larger idea of what your project will do.
  • Better: One of the storyboards exhibits your auction site, after login, giving the user a well thought-out set of options about what to do next. The user clicks on one, and proceeds to perform some meaningful activity that you've designed, with the storyboard disclosing the decisions the user makes at each step. Here we have been given a good idea of how the larger framing of the interface will work, and seen the complexity involved with the task.

Keep in mind that at least part of your mobile application should have a conventional UI, perhaps a home screen, a screen for entering user information, or a screen for setting configuration options. Some of these interfaces might appear on a desktop computer, however, instead of on the mobile device.

What to Turn In:
You will submit a writeup of roughly 7-12 pages of text and sketches through the wiki as described below. Your writeup should follow the outline below and will be graded using the writing guidelines described below.

  • Each team member's name and a short description (one sentence per person at most) of how they contributed to this assignment.
  • Description of users (1 short paragraph per person). Give a bit of relevant background on each subject. For privacy reasons, do not use real names or identifying information about your subjects.
  • Problem that the interface solves and a short explanation of how it solves the problem. (short, 1 paragraph)
  • Contextual inquiry interview descriptions and results (1-2 pages)
  • List of tasks: 6 tasks your application will support; 2 each of easy, moderate, difficult. (1 page)
  • Task analysis questions (1-2 pages)
  • Interface design (several pages)
    • Functionality summary (what you can do with it)
    • User interface description and sketches (how you use it)
    • Three (3) scenarios of example tasks with sketches
    • Any additional sketches
  • Analysis of approach (1 page). Explain the pros and cons of your approach and how it compares to alternative techniques.

Grading Breakdown:

Target Users (8 points)
Describe the rationale behind your choice of target users. For each of the three customers, give some details of their background, their likes/dislikes and priorities. Avoid information that may reveal their identity.

Problem and Solution Overview (2 pt)
This overview should be a concise statement of the problem you are tackling and a brief synopsis of your proposed solution.

Contextual Inquiry - Interview Descriptions (10 pts)
Describe the process you followed when conducting the interviews, and environment where you observed their work. Identify tasks and themes that the customers shared in common in their work practices. Then, note anything unique about each interview and comment on the rationale behind these events.

Task Analysis Questions (5 pts)
Answer the 11 task analysis questions. Use examples from your interviews when applicable.

Analysis of Tasks (10 pts)
Choose 6 tasks (2 easy, 2 moderate, 2 difficult tasks) and describe them. These should be detailed real world tasks.

Interface Design (20 pts)
Give a rationale for your design ideas. This section should clearly indicate the functionality of your artifact and what the user interface will be like (described and sketched — reference the figures in your text). You should then describe 3 scenarios of how someone would use it to accomplish 3 of the tasks above. Scenarios include the steps customers will go through to accomplish the task. You should include "storyboards" of the sequences described in your 3 scenarios. Make sure you consider the form of the UI that is most appropriate.

Analysis of Approach (5 pts)
Explain how your application takes advantage of the affordances of mobile devices. Discuss other potential solutions (e.g. non-mobile applications), and list the pros and cons of your approach.

How to Turn In:
From your group page, create a new page for your Contextual Inquiry assignment. You will probably want to call this page something like "<GroupName>ContextualInquiry" to ensure that the page is unique. Paste the text for your written report directly into your new page and embed any sketch images that you may have.

Finally, link this new page to the Contextual Inquiry page. After adding an entry to the bulleted list on that page, link that entry to the unique name that you picked for your assignment page in the step above.