Contextual Inquiry Review

Summary of Key Findings

After performing two contextual inquiries with Williams students who self-identify as wanderers and extensive fly on the wall observations at the Clark museum we have developed significant insights into how we should proceed in our product development. From our two contextual inquiries we developed an understanding for what wanderers do when they are wandering, that is, what are they thinking about, who are they wandering with and what are they looking for. While the answers to these questions may differ between different people and even between different times that they venture outdoors, we believe that the insight we have gathered is important as it reveals how some people feel some of the time. In terms of actual takeaways the most critical insight that we developed was of the different headspaces that people are in when they are outside wandering. That is, sometimes they are looking for specific things, other things they are socializing and sometimes they are just looking to think. In order to be successful we believe that our product can cater to at least a few of these potential types of wandering.

Design Research Goals, Stakeholders, and Participants

Since our project is focused on location-based information, we figured that the primary stakeholders for our design would be people who frequently travel to different locations. We chose U1 and U2, both Williams Students, as participants because they fit that description. U1 is a frequent wanderer who is also an avid geocacher. U2 is an amateur bird watcher and frequent wanderer who is passionate about all things outdoors. Since another focus of our project is curiosity-satisfaction, we also wanted to research how people act when they encounter something they are curious about. To accomplish this, we performed fly-on-the-wall observations at the Clark art museum.

Our contextual inquiry with U1 began with some basic questions in Paresky about geocaching and why U1 finds it so appealing. By understanding why U1 is attracted to geocaching we were hoping to develop an understanding that we could utilize to implement the attractive aspects of geocaching into our app. We then went on a walk around Williams campus where U1 demonstrated how geocaching works and what he took notice of as we were walking.

Our contextual inquiry with U2 focused on questions about what he finds appealing about exploring nature. We gathered that he sometimes wanders simply to think and make up his mind regarding something, other times he wanders to find specific locations or things. Developing an understanding for these different headspaces was an important component of our inquiry with U2 and we spent significant time trying to understand what he thought technology could contribute to his experience during these different ‘modes’ that he finds himself in. The main part of our contextual inquiry with U2 took place outdoors as we were walking around trying to understand exactly what it is that catches U2’s attention when he is outdoors and how those interactions could be enhanced through technology.

Our final investigation was a fly-on-the-wall observation at the Clark. We chose to perform this observation as a museum is one location in which we could imagine our product being used. By observing how people interact with certain intellectual institutions we will be able to understand how we should design our application to make it appealing and useful for an indoor space. At the Clark we observed many different types of visitors, ranging from students to older couples and single visitors. However, their behaviors were not typically unique to a certain type of visitor. Some visitors tended to travel in logical circuits through the spaces, while others wandered more aimlessly. Levels of interest also varied, where some people read every piece of text and examined every artwork and others briefly glimpsed at the largest, flashiest pieces. Additionally, there were different levels of engagement, ranging from tours (virtual and not) to just sitting at one of the many sitting areas and engaging with the art minimally.

Results and Themes

From our two contextual inquiries we developed an understanding for what wanderers do when they are wandering — that is, what are they thinking about, who are they wandering with, and what are they looking for. We learned that sometimes they are looking for specific things, other things they are socializing, and sometimes they are just looking to think.

One primary and overarching theme that proved to be important when we performed our contextual analysis is combining the environment with technology in an unobtrusive fashion. One of the students that we met with described how he avoids bringing his cell phone with him when he explores the outdoors because he feels that a cell phone can be distracting. Distraction is a theme that we observed during our fly-on-the-wall observations as well. At the Clark, visitors read information off of signs next to the artworks they were looking at — they couldn’t look at both the sign and the artwork at the same time, and focusing their attention on the sign detracted from their experience of viewing the artwork. We realize our product should provide a way to interact with the environment in a manner that does not distract from the environment.

A secondary theme that we observed during our contextual inquiries is the wide range of niches that our product can fill. During both our meetings with Williams students it became clear that they both had varied interests. Examples of the varied interests that they mentioned are trees, birds, buildings, monuments amongst a much bigger set of potential points of interest. With this many types of possible Pins, which is what we have decided to name posts in our program, we realized it was important to develop a way to separate these Pins in a way that is intuitive to the user, whether it is through differentiating Pin types or different app modes.

Another theme that we observed is active vs. passive searching. We define active searching as being when a user is looking for something specific while wandering while passive searching is when the user is simply wandering for wanderings sake. Both of the students that we performed contextual inquiries with engaged in both active and passive searching. Whether they were performing active or passive searching depended on what headspace they were in when they were wandering. Understanding of these different ‘modes’ that users may find themselves in is an important part of our product as we hope to satisfy the needs of users who find themselves in any of the given ‘modes.’ Active vs. passive searching is just one out of many ways of differentiating these possible modes.

What do these themes suggest?

These themes suggest that while there is interest in our product, it is important that it is developed in a way where it is not considered intrusive to the user who is using it to explore the outdoors. Furthermore, these themes suggest that there is significant opportunity to develop our application in several different directions, ranging from bird watching to building exploration. This may be both a blessing and a curse.

How did we identify them?

We identified these themes both through discussions with the two Williams students we met with but also through our fly on the wall observations at the Clark.

Task Analysis


In general, our users are people who like to walk or wander, tourists and travelers, and other demographics that will be visiting multiple locations and are curious about what that location has to offer. This is a broad category because it is not limited by any obvious characteristics such as age, gender or profession; rather, this is open to most people. Even if people are limited to a specific area, there may still be many unique places to explore within that area.


Currently, when individuals come up questions while wandering they may seek answers by performing Google searches, discussing with others in person or electronically. Additionally, sometimes our users want to share things that they find, and can do so through social media, but this is difficult for people who want to unplug when exploring.


Tasks that are desired are simpler alternatives to the methods of question answering available at present. This can include easier identification of wildlife and structures, or having a guided tour to take people through places they are at without having to actively go looking for a tour.


The act of going about answering questions is learned differently from person to person; as we saw with the Clark visitors, some people opted for Google or reading the available information while others had conversations with other visitors and staff. There is no single standard and the task is very universal.


These tasks are performed everywhere, from in the middle of the woods to inside institutions of higher learning. There is no location limitation to our design or users as of now. We are aiming this product at people who tend to move around a lot, though.


The relationship between the person and data should be that of a community member and their community, similar to the relationship between a library patron and library, for people who will be primarily asking questions. Alternatively, this relationship could resemble something more similar to that of an artist and an art gallery, or a blogger and their blog, for those more invested in the sharing aspect.


The person’s other tools include Google, people in their personal circles (friends, family, etc.), and social media platforms. Some dedicated individuals may also have access to specific books or staff if the location is an institution.


People communicate with each other in our design by commenting on the same pin or through direct messaging. This will largely be community based but location-limited. We are anticipating little long-term direct contact between two members of a community.


Ideally, these tasks are performed as often as users want. There should be no limit to how frequently users search for information or provide information to others. Performing these tasks should be organic and natural.

Time Limits

The tasks should be spontaneous and able to be completed quickly. There should be minimal delay, if any.


When things go wrong, users should be able to report when information is incorrect and find alternative sources. Additionally, there may be some limitation on where users can add information from or some user voting system to mitigate this issue. Documentation on the app’s functions as well as tutorials and a FAQ will help users handle errors they encounter.