A great product is not enough – what a contextual inquiry would have revealed



Today I saw an interesting tool. It’s called Feedbox and I saw it as I was waiting for our car to be fixed at the garage. It was placed in the waiting room and looked simple and friendly enough. It said: “Was the service quick and usefull?” Click the face that matches your feelings and you’re done. What a great little gadget, I thought. I’m sure they’ll get a lot of positive responses.
But then two things happened that completely changed the picture. First, as the minutes went by I got more and more pressured and agitated. I could see this was true for each and every one of the people waiting with me in that waiting room. It is an absolute fact. People in waiting rooms get impatient, pressured and generally annoyed. So, where should one vent – but off course – those smiley faces are just getting to me right now, here you go, service is bad bad bad.

Then the second thing happened. 20 minutes later I was called to the front desk where I received my keys back with a smile, everything fixed. Happy and cheerful I thought to myself, this wasn’t so bad after all and walked out happily, the Feedbox long forgotten. What was wrong with this picture? Easy. The Feedbox should have been placed at the front desk.

A contextual inquiry would be the right method to reveal this bias that was caused by the context in which people used the product. There is a pretty good chance the people from my garage will learn this soon enough…or they will be wondering why they are getting so much negative feedback.


3 thoughts on “A great product is not enough – what a contextual inquiry would have revealed

  1. Totally agree, context of use is crucial! and it’s always better to catch it when your still in the drawing board stages rather than when the product is already developed and facing your customers

    • Thanks! It is fair to say that context of use is sometimes hard to predict. To me what is important is being able to take that “fly on the wall” point of view and simply see how and where the product is being used…and being humble enough to correct one’s misjudgments.

  2. You touched a very interesting point. Not only that context, feelings, mental state are hard to predict. They change from case to case by, well … the context. Interaction designers (sorry, don’t like the term experts) should go through several stages on the way to take it into account correctly. First: Awareness – be aware that people’s mood changes in different places, different situation and different interaction; Second: modesty – don’t assume that you can predict reactions or that you understand them better that other people; Thirds: Observe & Test – this is the tricky part, you need to find the right opportunity for that, consider effort, resources, time and biases.
    Good post, not sure, though, about about right and wrong in this case

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