SI501 Contextual Inquiry


Due to a Non-Disclosure Agreement, specifics about this project and its outcome can not be disclosed.

As part of the University of Michigan School of Information's course Contextual Inquiry and Project Management, we worked with a local contracting company to evaluate and present recommendations to their project lifecycle.

This project was a collaboration with Cherie Edmonds, Kaarin Hoff, David Ross, Chris Wolf & Yanqi Wu.

UX Research

Graduate Coursework (SI501)

Fall 2011


The organization's behavior was approached and examined using Holtzblatt and Beyer's Contextual Design methodology.

The evaluation process consisted of a series of ethnographic interviews aimed to understand how the different employees enacted their roles in the organization's workflow. The context of the work was the most important aspect to capture in order to fully visualize how information was traveling throughout the company, and what might be holding it up in specific locations. In teams of two we interviewed and shadowed the practices, tendencies, and conceptions of employees throughout the organization.

One way the massive amount of observational information was examined was as an Affinity Wall, hierarchically grouping related notes.


Utilizing the raw interview data, a series of consolidated models, as described by Holtzblatt and Beyer, were created to provide an encompassing perspective to the system being evaluated. Generated models included Sequence, Flow, Cultural, Physical, and Artifact. The Sequence and Flow models show us where common breakdown were occurring in the communication patterns between employees. The artifact model illustrated how similar information was being carried across multiple documents, and the Physical model provided insight into how the actual office space was impacting the current work processes. Information gathered from the interviews was also deconstructed and used to build an Affinity Wall for further insights into overarching issues and behavior patterns.

A Physical Model was designed to draw insights into how the layout of the office impacts communication practices.


The interviews, models, and affinity wall allowed potential problem areas to be recognized and relevant solutions proposed in context. Following the study, a written report of findings and recommendations was presented to the client, along with an in-person presentation of the report's main points.