Starting my first UX Research/Design project and in need of some advice!



Continuing the discussion from Looking for advice for conducting contextual inquiries as a beginner:

Hey UX Masters!

This is going to be a lengthy post, so TLDR: I’m stuck in the planning stages of a practice portfolio piece – specifically when it comes to focus, questions to ask and behaviors to observe, who to conduct contextual inquiries with, and how to get those participants in the first place.

I am taking David Travis’s Udemy course. It’s been very informative so far, but IMO a little sparse on advice and seems to be geared towards people already in an organization.

I’ll try to quickly summarize the project as best I can. A hypothetical company wants to create a product that helps finding lost pets. They have already created a device that goes on the collar of dogs/cats that sends out a GPS signal up to 8 meters (~26 feet). They have brought me on to “identify the key user groups, identify the key tasks, set usability goals, develop a prototype and run a usability test before iterating on the design.”

To start with, I need to
1. See if there is a need for the system.

2. If there isn’t a need, identify how to change the system to meet a need.

3. Identify the main user groups.

4. Identify day-to-day activities that they engage in that’s related to the product.

5. Identify their workflow (sequence of activities).

I need to do this via a series of contextual inquiries.

Oh man, this is already getting to be too long! :sweat_smile: Here comes the question(s) part!

My goal is work on a product that makes finding lost pets easier. There are three groups that I’ve thought about focusing on.

  1. People who are worried that they may lose their pet.

  2. People who have lost their pet (whether they got them back or not)

  3. People who are currently looking for their lost pet.

I feel that the best group to study would be group 3. In theory, I could follow these participants around and observe and ask questions about how they are going about looking for their pet. But immediately, two things come to mind:

  • I feel that the number of people who I could randomly encounter who fall into this group is very small.

  • And even if I did encounter someone in this group and walk up to them to explain that I want to passively observe them, I’m not sure it would go over well. They are likely bereft and panicked. I don’t see them being keen on some stranger following them around in this moment.

The next best group to study would be group 2. Unfortunately, this is where conducting a contextual inquiry on these people would be difficult:

  • Looking for their pet happened in the past and thus their behaviors and the process they followed is unobservable to me. All I could do is ask questions. But sometimes people don’t tell the whole truth– sometimes purposely but also accidentally. Memory is very fallible and not an accurate snapshot of the past.

And so there is group 1. My hunch is that they are the majority, and the people who would make up the biggest segment who use this product. Essentially, this product would be peace of mind for them. However, here’s the problem with them:

  • They haven’t lost a pet. They don’t objectively know what they would do if they did. All they can do is conjecture. This likely wouldn’t take in to account the charged emotions and change of brain chemistry (fight or flight) that could possibly change what they think they would do in such a hypothetical situation.
  • Again, there is no process to observe. Only questions.

Right now, at this point, I’m trying to figure out:

1. Who to recruit (more specifically, how to figure out who to recruit).

2. HOW to recruit them (do I just go up and say, “hey, I see you are walking your dog. Have you ever lost them before? Yes? Okay friendly stranger who I just met 5 minutes ago, can you take 90 minutes out of your day to tell me in extreme detail your experience?”) :smirk: that’s a little bit of sarcasm, but a 60-90 minute session does seem to be necessary goal.

3. How to plan out which behaviors to observe and which questions to ask to see if there is a need for the system (or if the system needs to be tweaked to address a new need).

As I said before, I’m a bit overwhelmed. But I view this as a litmus test to see if I’m strong enough to be in this field, so I can’t back down. Does anyone have any advice on how I could begin?


My first somewhat basic question is why do you feel the need for this to be a contextual inquiry? If faced with a similar research problem I would probably lean towards an interview with group 2. You’ve already established that it is going to difficult to observe someone losing their pet so why not speak to people who can recall a time when as past behaviour is a good indication of future behaviour.

As to who/how to recruit, your idea is a good one to go up to someone with a dog. Do you have an dog park near you? Is there somewhere you could post a flyer? Reach out to friends and friends of friends on social media to see if they can introduce you to people who have lost a pet.

Finally divide your research - at first let’s forget you are designing a system as what you are trying to do is get insights into how people behave in that situation. You won’t know until you ask them and then you will start to see patterns emerge for which you can move into solution mode. Don’t be too quick to jump to the solution until you have fully understood the problem.

I hope I haven’t confused you more.



Thank you! You have actually made my mission more clear. I’m so dead set on contextual inquiries because that’s what the assignment is calling for, but as you say, a customer/user journey map may be more applicable.

As it so happens, there are a ton of people who walk dogs around my apartment, so I could go outside right now and speak to them. If you don’t mind, I’ve come up with a super loose script for talking with them, and I was wondering what you thought. I also have some concerns that I have written below.

"Hi, how are you doing? That’s a pretty dog! (thank you) What kind of dog is it? Cool, a Blue Healer huh? I’ve never seen a dog like this before. Do you mind if I pet it? What’s it’s name? Haha that’s a good name. I’m Geoff by the way (hold out hand) (and you are?). Nice to meet you Jack!

I’m actually conducting a little research project about owners and their dogs, specifically what owners would do if they lost their dogs."

This is where things get really tricky… I need to spend about 30-60 minutes speaking with them. Normally, I would say “could I just take a few moments of your time?” but this isn’t just a few moments. I’ve looked into how customer/user journey maps go, and the goal is a very thoroughly detailed step-by-step process of how a person finds their lost pet. From what I’ve read, they usually take about 60-90 minutes.

One thought is:

“Would you mind participating in a 30 to 60 minute study? You don’t have to do it right now, but if not, could I set up an appointment?”


  • They don’t know me. I’m a stranger, and asking anything more than a few moments (especially an hour) seems to be asking way too much

  • If it’s a woman, I’m afraid that this problem may be complicated further by the fact that she may think I’m secretly trying to pick her up / arrange a date. I could easily envision her seeing the encounter as creepy.

  • I’ve got a couple of questions / things to observe written down, but I’m pretty sure I don’t have enough to last an hour or even half an hour.

  • On top of being me being stranger, I feel asking to audio record the session may be even further pushing the envelope towards a creeper vibe. Especially if I’m talking with a woman. I feel even asking may make them feel uncomfortable.

I greatly appreciate the advice that I’ve gotten so far! I hope I don’t sound ungrateful, I just have a lot of questions! Do you have any more advice, and/or are there any articles/videos with advice on how to conduct this process more smoothly?


Your script could work, just be friendly enough that they feel comfortable and not too much that they think you might be wanting to steal their dog!

  • Yes, they don’t know you but I find once you are open about what your doing most people are willing to talk and if they aren’t then that’s OK too.

  • Contextual inquiries can take a long time but since you are not doing that you can also scale back the interview time. Maybe a few short questions asked in 10 minutes to a greater selection of people might give you the insights you need. Or your alternative of arranging another time is a good one but again I don’t think you’ll need 90 minutes.

  • As for audio, you will come up against people who say no and that’s OK. The other alternative is to bring with you the questions, take lots of notes (not ideal as it doesn’t allow you to focus on them) and then write up your key take aways as soon as you are finished talking.