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Contextual Interview

During these 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.

Conducting Contextual Interviews

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.

two women conducing a contextual interview

What You Learn From Contextual Interviews

Contextual interviews combine observations with interviewing. By going to the user, you see the user's environment and the actual technology the user works with. As a result, you’ll be able to answer questions such as:

  • Any issues that users are facing
  • Equipment they are working with
  • How their space is set-up
  • Preference between mouse and keyboard`
  • The type of internet connection they have
  • How long does it take to complete common or target tasks
  • Whether there are people there and willing to assist the user if they need help completing a task

Combining Contextual Interviews and Usability Testing

In a usability test, you usually have all users try to complete the same scenarios resulting in comparative data from several people trying the same thing. In contextual interviews you watch people’s behavior in their own environment doing their own tasks. However, you can combine contextual interviews and usability testing by:

  • Taking scenarios along during contextual interviews. Combine watching users do their own work in their environments with asking them to try a few of your tasks.
  • Interview users during a usability test to find out the sorts of questions, issues, tasks they would come to the site with. Let the users do their own tasks but have them do some of your tasks as well.

Website usability testing is often informal and conducted much like a contextual interview. However, usability testing can range from informal and qualitative to quite formal and quantitative.