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Building a Project Vision by Understanding Users

Boxes and Arrows: Building a Vision of Design Success

Since I started to learn a little more about Contextual Inquiry/Ethonography, it seems like it is coming up every where.

Though this article does not mention the terms above, it describes the techniques as a viable way to build and promote a vision for a project.

I find it useful to use Peter Senge’s Five Why’s. This is a very simple technique in which you ask why, and when you get a response, you ask why again. It helps you move from specific issues to uncovering larger underlying problems.

For example, let’s say you are the head of user research:
Me: Why do you think we should do a redesign?
You: Because people can’t find anything.
Me: Why can’t they find anything?
You: The navigation isn’t intuitive.
Me: Why isn’t it intuitive?
You: We didn’t do any user research when we designed it, just usability after.
Me: Why is that?
You: Well, our budget was cut…
Me: Oh? (which is what I say when I’m tired of “why�?…)
You: Well, the company doesn’t seem to value getting user feedback.

From this short conversation, I’ve learned several things. The user researcher thinks findability is a key problem, and he thinks research would help, and he feels we don’t invest in it. I can return to any of the places where I asked way, and take a different branch to find out more.


As I write about this subject, I wonder if readers are asking themselves: What does this have to do with weblogs and online communities?

My answer is that business-based weblogs and online communities must fulfill a real need to be truly successful.

As I learn about contextual inquiry, I'm discovering a way to understand that need- a way to get to the real issue and problems that need to be solved. Otherwise design decisions may be driven by speculation and assumptions which may waste valuable time and money in the long run.