Reflection on Contextual Inquiry Project

Just past the half way mark in our first quarter at AC4D, I have been reflecting on our group service design project at Buzz Mill coffee Shop.

At the beginning of our research we were asked to find a business and pitch a research project the would use contextual inquiry as a means of discovering new opportunities for bettering their service. We had just a few days to find a business that fit all our criteria, secure a partnership, design a research plan, and create a presentation. In our scramble, it was difficult to process what we had learned about contextual inquiry and how it could help us identify new design ideas down the line.

Though my understanding of what contextual inquiry is is still rough, within service design, I understand it to be steeping one’s self in the people and processes of a business by being there and observing things as they occur. This helps the researcher to understand the culture of the business and how things are actually happening in contrast to how they are intended to happen.

This seems straightforward, but I and my group were so focused on the interviewing part of our research plan (which is also integral to this methodology), that we did not conduct much observation before launching into interviews on site.

Now, six weeks in, I am looking over our data and noticing that a lot of the patrons are either oblivious to the idea that Buzz Mill tries to create positive social impact through business and social initiatives, or they only know a few pieces and parts of Buzz Mill’s mission and offerings. This lack of understanding doesn’t seem to come from a lack of visible information. By golly, there are signs and photos and indicators of Buzz Mill’s initiatives everywhere. (see photo below). It’s possible, then, that there is too much disjointed information and patrons are just not able to easily piece it together, but this is just a hypothesis based on my own, personal experience.

Buzz Mill in Austin displays a lot of information around the cafe
Buzz Mill in Austin displays a lot of information around the cafe

If I were to begin this project over again, I would have suggested our group try a participatory design component that would ask patrons seated in the cafe to describe what they know about the company, what they see, and what that tells them about Buzz Mill initiatives. This may have helped us understand how people are processing the information on display and given us insight into understanding gaps. It would have been particularly interesting to ask patrons what they understand from the information scrolling on the two flat-screen tv’s  in the Austin cafe.

A flatscreen at Buzz Mill in Austin displays information about the Lumber Society.
A flatscreen at Buzz Mill in Austin displays information about the Lumber Society.

While we are currently affinity diagraming (looking for patterns) within our current data, I found it helpful to think about what we could have done differently while researching to get deeper results.

Our next presentation around the themes we uncover is this Wednesday, when we shall present our work to both the class and the business.