User research is one of the most important elements of user-centered design. With various methodologies to choose from, it’s important to understand the functions of each, and knowing how and when to use them. Contextual inquiries are considered one of the richer types of user research methods, and can be a powerful tool for creating effective designs. A step further than a user interview, a contextual inquiry involves observing people in their natural context and habitat while asking them questions to fill in the gaps of your observation.

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Illustration by Beth Anne Kinnaird.

In a contextual inquiry, the UX researcher observes how participants perform certain tasks while having them describe what they are doing through their interaction with the product. Unlike a usability test, the user is interacting with the product in their natural habitat and context of use. This contextual environment yields richer insights and a deeper understanding behind the behavioral interaction between a user and the product. The goal is to observe the actions the users perform and understand the goals behind those actions. …

As any UX Designer can confirm, one of the hardest things about in-person usability testing is getting your participants to the physical testing site. No matter how hard we try to accommodate them (taking steps like holding testing hours after work) the fact of the matter is, sometimes you just can’t recruit enough users to test your product onsite.

As UX design best practices have continued to evolve, remote usability testing has become a more popular option. Remote testing is like traditional usability testing except that the participant and facilitator are in two different physical locations; the participant interacts with your design in their own environment, physically separated from the facilitator. …

A user experience map is a method of visualizing the entire end-to-end user experience that an average user will go through in order to accomplish a goal. It’s product and service agnostic, so it’s used for understanding general human behavior in a larger context. It helps an organization visualize a baseline understanding of an experience prior to taking the particular product or service into consideration.

Experience mapping is one of the many methodologies that UX designers use to help them build empathy and understanding with their users in order to improve the user experience of a product. Of course, with all of the skill sets contained in our UX toolkit, it can often become difficult to know when and how to utilize each method of building empathy and understanding with users to use. …


Justin Morales

B2B SaaS Product Designer based in Los Angeles, CA.

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