IDUS215 Contextual Research Methods

This course is about understanding people, and understanding the culture in which design solutions exist. Through the course, students experience various contextual research methods, including Contextual Inquiry, Interviews, Focus Groups, and Questionnaires, and develop and practice unique and innovative user research methodologies. Through these techniques, they learn how to synthesize large quantities of user research, and allow research to drive design.

The following course outcomes indicate competencies and measurable skills that students develop as a result of completing this course:

About the Class

This course presents the techniques necessary to conduct relevant and useful research of a novel domain in context. Students are expected to gain knowledge and expertise to contribute to the design process in user-centered products and systems in which user, goals and task needs are given primary importance. I developed this course after seeing students have difficulty finding design direction is late studio courses; students would simply draw arbitrary ideas without grounding them in reality. This class introduces techniques intended to substantiate design decisions.


These lectures are used to emphasize main ideas, techniques, and readings. I speak to each slide for nearly five minutes, but the structure of the content may be useful for others engaged in teaching this sort of material.

Each file is a .pdf of mini-slides. Feel free to email me for the larger version.

  1. Introduction to Contextual Research Methods
  2. Ethnography: Gathering Data
  3. Ethnography: Analyzing Data 1: Contextual Design Models
  4. Ethnography: Analyzing Data 2: Task Flow Analysis
  5. Questionnaires and Surveys: Gathering Data
  6. Questionnaires and Surveys: Analyzing Data
  7. Focus Groups
  8. Writing an Executive Summary
  9. Unique Methodology Creation

Reading Material

Karen Holtzblatt, Jessamyn Burns Wendell, Shelley Wood, Rapid Contextual Design : A How-to Guide to Key Techniques for User-Centered Design. 2004. Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, Inc. ISBN 0123540518

Mike Kuniavsky, Observing the User Experience. 2003. Elsevier Science. ISBN 1558609237