How to adapt products to the cultural nuances of users?

Gabriela Milewski, Delia Di Filippantonio December 19, 2022 · 7 min

Why contextual inquiry?

Contextual inquiry principles, in practice

  • Focus — Plan for the inquiry based on a clear understanding of your purpose
  • Context — sink in the environment
  • Partnership — Align with the local team and uncover unarticulated aspects of the service
  • Interpretation — Develop a shared experience with the customer about the elements of work that matter

👉 #Focus

  • Define your recruitment criteria: screener surveys help to recruit and align early on, and better understand the type of people you will be talking to.
  • Structure clear scripts with research goals, questions and rough timings: especially when more than one researcher is conducting the inquiries, well-formed scripts are important to align across the group and ensure that the session outcomes are comparable.
  • Create note-taking templates for the observers: having an outline of the main themes helps the note-takers organise their content as they go, as well as ensure alignment across session outputs.
  • Check Non-Disclosure Agreements: in a potentially ‘messier’ field trip, it is even more critical to ensure all necessary documents are prepared and signed in advance to ensure legal compliance.
Generative research with Groceries users in Casablanca.


👉 #Context

👉 #Partnership

👉 #Interpretation

During the contextual inquiry, we ordered grocery shopping with one of our users.
During the contextual inquiry, we ordered grocery shopping with one of our users.

Why doesn’t everyone make contextual inquiries, then?

💪 Pros

  • They have the potential to provide more in-depth insights to inform product development for a better product-market fit
  • Researching within the users’ context allows them to gather details that they wouldn’t have thought of sharing in a different setting
  • You can observe physical interaction outside of the in-app space
  • You get a better sense of the cultural nuances that influence product and service usability in that context

🚩 Cons

  • They are much harder to prioritise, organise and conduct than regular usability testing or an interview
  • They work best for context-heavy apps and products that have physical service touchpoints
  • Despite the importance of context, the behaviour of a person that is being observed vs their real-life conduct will never be identical, as biases can still be at play