With Rapid Contextual Design to structured requirements

In my search for methodical approaches to develop good user interfaces, the book "Rapid Contextual Design - A How-to Guide to Key Techniques for User-Centred Design" was recommended to me. This is a very good and practical description of how to collect user requirements on the basis of contextual interviews and how to prepare them in a structured way with the help of various workshops in order to finally develop new approaches. In this article I give a short overview of the individual steps of this process. You can read about our experiences with the RCD process here.

Rapid Contextual Design Process Overview

Context Interview

The RCD process starts with the questioning of users in the form of contextual interviews. For a successful context interview, it is important to define the user groups precisely, as these form the basis for the results determined in the RCD process. A user group is defined based on its experience with the task and its affinity to the required technical set. Per user group 4-5 users should be interviewed. To prepare the interview it is important to create an interview guideline based on the task to be investigated. This guide will give orientation for the execution of the contextual interviews. The interview itself should not last longer than 2 hours and should preferably take place directly in the situation where the user typically performs the required task. This gives a better impression of the real environment and possible interruptions or other challenges that the user has to face. During the implementation it is important that the interviewer understands exactly what the user is doing and why something happens. A tip that has proven to be very useful is to summarize briefly every now and then what has been seen and heard. In this way one can directly check one's own interpretations. It is also important to always make sure that the core questions are at the center of the interview. Ideally, the interviews are planned in such a way that the first interpretation sessions take place in between. In this way, findings or open questions can be dealt with in greater detail in the following interviews.


In the following interpretation session, the interviewer tells the team about the contextual interview using his notes. He goes through them step by step, summarizes nothing and leaves nothing out. The most important statements are written down in understandable sentences on individual pieces of paper, the so-called affinity notes. Tip: There should never be more than 2 days between interview and interpretation session. During the evaluation, the interviewer is not passive: he or she discusses, offers interpretations and design ideas. Furthermore, he checks the notes for correctness to ensure quality.


The requirements generated from the interviews are structured and generalized step by step in a joint affinity diagramming session. Since the participants can also be people who did not conduct or interpret the interviews, they are all jointly briefed at the beginning and informed about the goal of the session. In order to achieve the best possible results, the team that conducts the affinity diagramming session should be interdisciplinary. Each participant can decide independently to which groups he or she will assign his or her notes. It is also allowed to change the assignments of other participants. The dynamics that arise in the team then automatically create meaningful groupings.

Affinity Diagram Example

For the affinity note groups that have now been created, the individual statements are described and generalized by appropriate headings. This way, the most important core statements can be grasped more quickly and the affinity wall becomes clearer step by step. It is important to find headings that reflect exactly what the notes below say. The aim is to avoid having to read the notes below if you want to know what the core statement in a particular group stands for. By repeating the groupings, the most important user requirements are identified, which makes it easier to grasp the topics and develop creative ideas.


In the Affinity Walk, each participant studies the results of the affinity diagramming session on their own. If the customer has not yet been involved, this appointment would be a good opportunity. While reading, possible gaps are marked, design ideas are directly recorded and questions are noted. In a concluding discussion, the most important user requirements (key issues) and best ideas (hot ideas) are then identified. These now form the basis for the subsequent visioning workshop.


The visioning workshop is all about developing a solution that enhances the product experience by meeting the actual user requirements of the task. Methodologically, the visioning workshop is a brainstorming combined with storytelling: The participants tell each other what the user's life with new technologies could look like. The focus is not on working out features, but rather on describing the new life processes. The ideas are visualized in a vision poster.


Now it goes back into detail. With the help of a storyboard, the individual steps such as interaction with the user interface, the reaction of the system and business rules are recorded in individual hand sketches and descriptions. Care should be taken here to ensure that all steps are mapped individually.

Storyboard example

The detailed steps then visualized in the storyboarding create a great basis for creating wireframes. These should then be tested with the users and iteratively developed further.


Thanks to Josef for the inspiration on this topic.

Anja Stork

UX Consultant


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