Contextual Design

To firmly attain the best possible understanding in the layers of design, context is a fundamental asset for comprehension and data collection. In data-driven design, context can be facilitated as a tool to further propel the trajectory of a project scope after conceptual sculpting has been assessed.

Contextual design informs UI/UX developers and designers on the way in which current, and future, users are engaging with a digital product. These insights are then utilized to ensure that usability, functionality, and accessibility are at an optimal state. Additionally, the built context within every user interaction becomes a piece to the puzzle for user research, as developers are able to assess their audiences through contextual inquiries, and all modes of user testing.

In a contextual inquiry, UX researchers can observe participants as they navigate an interface, design, or digital product, how they interact with them, and the way in which they perform tasks. Researchers can prompt questions, access users’ thoughts and opinions, and learn ways to pacify pain points.

This process is achievable with its four guiding principles:

  1. Focus
  2. Context
  3. Partnerships
  4. Interpretation


Contextual inquiries often take the form of real-world observations and interviews, in which UI/UX teams focus their inquiry session with clear, streamlined questions for their participants. A stabilized focus on what key insights to uncover about your users is needed for the best possible data analysis.


A majority, if not all, contextual interviews and studies are conducted in a user’s own familiar environment. This enables UI/UX researchers to understand how a user is utilizing an interface through the context of use, to fully punctuate how a user engages with a product. Researchers observe how the users are utilizing the digital interface by simply observing as the user navigates a website/app during the session.


For a contextual inquiry to run as efficiently as possible, users and researchers often collaborate together with effective communication. The optimal results in data can be gathered if researchers ask the right questions, while also allowing users the liberty to share their thoughts. Without the hierarchy of dominance within the session, users feel much more confident sharing their input with honesty, which in turn enables researchers to access clear data.


Nothing enables a seamless contextual design session than clarity and communication. Before concluding a contextual design session, it is vital for researchers to fully allow their users to expand upon their thoughts and conclusions. Reiterating information back to the users in interpretation also allows another opportunity for further accuracy. This ensures clarity in the process and allows data and feedback to be best applied to a UI/UX design once the session has been completed.

The result of the contextual inquiry is beneficial for discovering hidden data and insights to improve a process and learn about what is important to users for current and future designs. Although there is a plethora of user-testing tools out there, such as analytics tools or heat map tracking, contextual inquiries allow for real-world observations that insist on a deeper, first-hand mode of testing.

Design Thinking
Conceptual Design
Experiential Design
Iterative Design