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Contextual Inquiry

Overview of basic qualitative data gathering techniques.

Course Overview: 

User Experience (UX) Design starts with understanding users: when, where, how, and why they use the products and services they do. The market for highly developed UX skills has never been greater, so if you are looking to add or enhance UX skills to support your current role, trying to convince your organization to engage effectively in UXD practices, or considering the field of UX as a career-move, the Rutgers UXD II course is for you. 


Today’s experience are diverse, mobile, and interactive. They take place over time, can involve multiple devices and more than one person. Studies of user needs in these environments can no longer be confined to a usability test lab but understand the social context and activities that are involved in the interaction.


In UXD II, you will learn about a variety of research techniques: how to choose among them for the problem you are trying to solve and how to apply the results of your work with insights to create engaging and usable design.  This course will give you a core toolkit that will help you throughout your career. 


You will also ‘learn by doing' with team and individual projects that let you to practice the techniques in class. As course attendees from the UXD I course attest, the UXD II methods you learn will be immediately transferable to your daily job.   


Students who successfully complete this course will receive a Mini-Masters Certificate in UXD II from RATE. Coursework can be applied to the Masters in Business and Science (MBS) UXD concentration offered at Rutgers. CEU credits are also available. 


The course meets on five weekends (click offering "i" icon below to see dates), with an exam for those taking the course for credit. The course ends with final presentations of work done on the class projects. 


Students who successfully complete this course will receive a Certificate of Completion from RIE. Coursework can be applied to the Masters in Business and Science (MBS) UXD concentration offered at Rutgers. CEU credits are also available.

Who Should Attend: 

This program is designed those people interested in  working in the UXD field, or those already in the field looking to expand or deepen their skills.


It requires an Introduction to UXD course or equivalent work experience.

Acquired Skills: 

This course provides a mix of lecture, discussion, and project based instruction. Over the course of 5 weekends, and 8 intense class days, you will learn and practice skills in user research, focusing on qualitative research methods to understand the context in which products and services are used, and how to understand users’ needs.


The course is structured around a realistic project.  Whether you are developing a product, a web interface, a mobile app, or a new workflow, this course will refine your skills so that you can make critical decisions about what and how to collect data and when and how to evaluate potential designs. 


Upon completion of this course, you will be able to:

  • Write good interview questions, develop rapport with your interviewees and conduct effective interviews
  • Build note-taking skills for interviews and contextual observations
  • Observe and record the design importance of artifacts and interactions
  • Understand the different perspectives from culture and belief systems that affect the user experience
  • Use personas a way to analyze and present research results
  • Create journey maps that present different paths through a user experience
  • Write short user surveys
  • Know when to use card sorting and other popular interactive research tools
  • Research, analyze, and present UX research findings and recommendations

This course requires our User Experience Design introductory course or equivalent work experience.

Course Outline: 

The course covers: 

  • User research fundamentals – Categories of user research techniques from observation to ethnography to participatory practices, ethics, and core skills of interviewing, observing, and planning a project.
  • Task and activity analysis – Techniques for observing and noting the steps and interactions in an activity, including activity diagrams and journey maps.
  • Personas and scenarios – Techniques for representing an understanding of users through segmentation, personas, and writing stories or scenarios to communicate the user context.
  • Surveys and other remote data collection methods – An overview of the range of user research techniques including surveys, diary studies, artifact probes, and how to ask questions effectively.
  • Card sorting and analytics – card sorting for information architecture, and ways to use site and search analytics to analyze behavior.
  • More tools in the research toolkit - an overview of the range of user research techniques including quick impression tests, diary studies, and experience sampling.
  • Bringing research into the design studio – using the design studio approach for research-based ideation and exploring new ideas.
  • Planning a project – organizing the research toolkit so you can select a balance of methods by type of data collected, whether it is qualitative or quantitative in approach, and where it fits in the user-centered design cycle.

Course Outline:



Class Topics

Homework Projects

Weekend 1 - Saturday

1. Research Fundamentals

  • Research method overview
  • Research ethics
  • Basic research skills: Interviewing and observations skills
  • Introducing the class project


Weekend 1 - Sunday

2. Understanding context

  • Ethnography
  • People and culture
  • Creating and testing an interview guide

Conduct interviews & observations

Weekend 2 - Saturday

3. Understanding people

  • Qualitative data analysis
  • Affinity analysis
  • Creating and using personas


Create personas

Weekend 3-


4. Understanding activities

  • Task analysis
  • Journey maps
  • Observing and diagraming tasks

Create a journey map

Weekend 4 – Saturday

5. Research tools

  • Card sorting
  • Diary studies
  • 5-second tests


Weekend 4 - Sunday

6. Surveys

  • Writing questions and question types
  • What you can learn from a survey
  • Sample sizes and error
  • Satisfaction surveys

Create and run a survey

Weekend 5 - Saturday

7. Using research in a project

  • Exploring ideas in a design studio
  • Reporting on research

Create final presentations

All offerings of this course: