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UX Tip #34 Observation is key

There’s no point asking people what they like or dislike, asking them to predict what they would do in the future, or asking them to tell you what other people might do - in many cases they’ll tell you what they think you want to hear. Generally, people don’t have a reliable understanding into their mental processes, so the most valuable insights will come from observation of what they actually do rather than what they say. A contextual enquiry is a semi-structured interview method that focuses on observing people in the context of their own environment, such as their place of work. The technique usually involves observing participants as they go about particular task, be it a trip to the shops or their normal work day, with the intent of understanding their mental model, routines, devices, distractions, etc. It tends to be quite time-consuming, but results in a rich set of information that can used to better inform a set of requirements, improve a process, or learn what is really important to customers and users.