What is contextual research ?

Contextual research is a form of ethnographic inquiry that uses different ethnographic research methods to capture insights from the users. The goal is to understand what the users need and want within the context of their daily life.

Contextual Research @ Savannah College of Art & Design /10 weeks / 2018

Ethnographic Research Tools Used: Observations, Interviews, Focus Group, Stakeholder Map, Cultural Probe, Sensory Cue Kit, Affinitization

What is the goal ?

The contextual research Project aims to find an ideal experience of a topic we choose by going through 5 stages of research: Relevance- methods, techniques, tools – analysis- framework-storytelling. The topic selected was bakery. The goal of our team is to collect data, affinitize and analyze for what is the ideal experience of bakery.

Table of Contents









00. Project Scope

Week 1 - 7

Collecting data through observations, interviews, cultural probe and sensory cue kit. 

Week 7 - 8

Affinitization: reveals issues and needs for users. Yellows, Blues, Pinks, Greens

Week 9 - 10

Constructing framework using insights obtained from Affinitization and building process book

01. Primary Research

What is Primary Research?



Primary Research is research that you conudct yourself. You gather data sets by immersing yourself into people’s daily life to observe. It is important to listen to users without bias and not to include assumptions. You should be gathering as many data as possible objectively at this stage. Primary Research invovles Observation, Stakeholder Map, Interview, Cultural Probe and Sensory Cue kit in this research process

What is Stakeholder Map? 



Stakeholder Map is a visualization tool that enables us to identify and plan out stakeholders in the research process. Creating the map allows us to identify and understand the relationships between stakeholders and our research.

02. Observations

03. Interviews

What is interview? 

Interview is a research method that enables us to gather qualitative and quantitative information from  experts in the field, customers and users. Each of our team members conducted three interviews and gained data sets from the interviews. There are six types of interview questions: Closed questions, Open questions, Brain based questions, Heart based questions, problem based questions & Solution based questions. 

Main Interview Questions : 

How often do you bake? Usually when do you feel like baking?
Do you still go to bakery shop after you start to bake at home?
What emotions do you experience when you bake? Why do you think the reason is?
Why do you still enjoy baking even though the process is tough? 
Do your family members bake? 
When did you first approach to baking?
Do you often go to bakery? At home? 
What do you usually get at the bakery?
Do you prefer more choice for items or less choice? 
So if a bakery only have few choices you won’t choose to go in right?
Do you feel rush when people line up behind you?
 What is the ideal customer purchase experience?
Who taught you how to bake?
Do you get creative with baking or follow the recipes? 
If you become extremely good at baking, would you try to bake yourself without the recipes? In another word, would you be more creative on baking than you are now?
What is the ideal customer purchase experience? What is the best bakery you have been to? And why is it so special?

“Not really. I usually go to supermarkets where they have breads and cakes for sale. ” “I would decrease the percentage of sugar and oil, because they are unhealthy.” “I prefer more choices. ” “Yes, I will definitely speed up because I don’t want people to be waiting for me. ” “You can tell that it is healthy from its name”“because it might mean that they have special items.” “I like bakeries that sell baked good with certain drinks because I like drinks with my food.” “They renew them every hour or at a certain time” “. They sell bake goods with certain drinks as combos. ” 

04. Cultural Probe

What is Cultural Probe?


Cultural Probe is a method to gather data sets and information from users in a quickest possible way. We built a probe that is interactive and immersive. The goal is to gather as many data points as possible from participants.

As a team, we decided to create a visual with donut elements because it is a perfect match with our theme of bakery. One of the cretiria was to maximise the number of data sets generated by the probe, so we decided to have four donuts on our probe each serves as a question for participants. Our key question was “what is the most important element of a bakery to you?”.

Cultural Probe Results : 

05. Sensory Cue Kit 

Sensory Cue kit is a research method that enables us to obtain user needs by evoking their feelings using a lot of different items. To perform Senory Cue kit, we prepared 30+ items that involve not only objects, words, images, but sensory experience. And we divided them into four main anchors: Warmth, Nostalgia, Comfortable & sociability

Sensory Cue Kit Video :

06. Affinitization 

Affinitization Process :

Affinitization is a process that gathers all the issues and insights that you obtain from users and put them into one space for grouping. This process allows you to observe issues from all users and reveal insights from the bottom. 

After finishing the primary research stage, we began to enter the process of affinitizing. The process involves putting all the data points on to yellow post-its, clustering the yellows into blue post-its, repeat the clustering process to turn blues into pinks and finally into greens. 

We attempted our first yellow clustering during class. The process was intense as no communication was allowed. The process was tedious and repetitive, but we got to know our data points better and that helped us in clustering them. 

We moved into “True Blues” stage, which is the process of expressing what matters in the voice of the user. It is very difficult to capture yellow’s contents in detail while controlling the length of the blues, but we managed to get it done. Another important thing is not to over-interpret users’ words. 

The pink stage is a repetition of “True Blues” stage. We clustered blues into groups and wrote pinks in the voice of the user. 

The final stage of the affinity process is the greens. At this stage, we summarized the pinks not necessarily in the voice of the user. We use the insights we gathered from the greens to construct our framework.

“I feel happy, hungry and excited, When I walk into a new bakery.” “I don’t like how unhealthy baked goods are. I want baked goods to be healthy and know they are healthy from their names.” “I prefer self-service stations/ self-checkout at bakeries because I don’t like to bother people.” “Pound cakes, donuts and cinnamon rolls are very important in a bakery.” “I want bakeries to feel warm, cozy and comfortable.”“I care about reviews and other people’s experience over marketing.” “I like bakeries that sell baked good with certain drinks because I like drinks with my food.” “We like a quitter bakery with light music. Too much noise is rude. Sound is more important than atmosphere.” “I want bakeries to take allergies into account.” “When I go to a bakery, I think bad services, dirty display cases, not having what I want, and smelly/annoying homeless men are the worst.”

Insights : 

1. to have a work and play section 
2. to make special orders 
3. to smell fresh baked goods 4. rustic and industrial aesthetic 
5. flexible hours 
6. a variety goods 
7. to see fresh products in a display case 
8. social bakery 
9. to feel comfortable and at ease 
10. to order immediately

1. atmosphere 
2. quality and types of goods 
3. to-go packaging 
4. location 
5. sound levels
6. reviews 
7. prices 
8. lines

1. to miss our orders 
2. to see cheap atmosphere 
3. modern bakeries

07. Framework

A research framework provides a visual map of insights obtained from users through our research for designers to look at. Designers are able to come out with design ideas based on insights provided by our framework. 

As a team, we struggled on the framework design. Our initial design of three baked good forming a framework was denied because the design was too distracted to read. We decided to redesign our framework to mirror a donut and stayed consistent with our original color schemes. We eventually came out with a design that qualifies as a good framework for storytelling.

Final Framework : 

For the poster, we spent a huge amount of time researching images because they serve the purpose to inspire and provide advanced design ideas for designers. The poster is constructed with our research framework and insights obtained from users through our 10 week research. The poster gathered all the insights we collected and will be useful for designers to create an ideal experience of bakery. 

Final Poster : 

07. Reflection

This course has been an exciting experience for me. When I first walked into the classroom, I never imagined that I could be learning this much about research and fell in love with the experience. The research process could be tedious and repetitive, but the outcome of our research is simply amazing and inspiring. 

Teammate reflection: This is a precious life learning experience for me. I learned that sometimes you don’t really have choice in life and need to be able to adapt in any environment and to people around you. I was being a bad teammate who tries to run away from the team, but I realized that I need to take more responsibilities for the team. And the outcome is beautiful and I truly felt grateful for this life learning experience. 

Student reflection: I should be more active and participate more in class. I tried to participate more and raised my hands more after the mid term meeting. 

Project reflection: 

Secondary Sink Challenge: we did a good job on this project, but one insight from the Lexitant Framework was missing from our design. We need to include that in our design. 

Observation: we need to do more observations when we do our research in the future. 

Interviews: we did a good job on the interview part and it provides a lot of data points for us. A more depth interview might be needed for future reference. 

Cultural Probe: Cultural probe was a challenge for us. We need to work on our design and question asking. We should not have provided the participants with options, instead we should ask open questions and let them speak their own mind. 

Sensory Cue kit: It was fun to work on Sensory Cue kit and we did a good job to provoke needs from the participants. The only thing that needs to improve is maybe add more scent items in the future. 

Affinitization: We have 400+ yellows, which is a good number but need more work compared to the other teams. Fortunately, we came out with enough greens. It was a fun process and I enjoy seeing a lot of good insights from our research. 

Framework & Poster: we came out with a strong and well designed framework and poster. 

Li Wei Tan ©2018

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