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Invited Lecture
Contextual Design: Origins, Ethics, and Diverse Voices
Karen Holtzblatt
InContext Design
United States

Brief Bio
Karen Holtzblatt is CEO of InContext Design, a thought leader, industry speaker, and author.  A recognized leader in requirements and design, Karen has developed transformative design approaches throughout her career. She introduced Contextual Design, the industry standard for understanding the customer and organizing that data to drive innovative product and service concepts. Her book Contextual Design 2nd Edition Design for Life  is used by companies and universities worldwide. In recognition of her impact on the field, Karen was awarded the first Lifetime Award for Practice by ACM SIGCHI  (The Association of Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Computer-Human Interaction).Karen is also the driving force behind the Women in Tech Retention Project housed at WITops research explores why women in technology professions leave the field and creates tested interventions to help women thrive and succeed. Her book with Nicola Marsden, Retaining Women in Tech: Shifting the Paradigm describes this work.

Contextual Design (CD) is a user-centered requirements and design process used by teams and taught in universities worldwide. Introduced by Karen Holtzblatt in 1991, Contextual Inquiry—the field interviewing technique—and the other CD techniques help teams use customer data to drive product concept creation and design. These processes were honed by working with teams developing products, business applications, consumer goods, services, websites, apps, and more. In this talk, Karen returns to the origins of these CD processes, revealing the ethical considerations and concern for ensuring that all voices are heard on diverse teams that informed the process. 
Contextual Inquiry (CI) was a direct reaction to how experimental psychology studies treated “subjects,” especially children. Re-framing interactions with participants to ensure a more equal power relationship is at the core of this practice. Equal power depends on active listening and accountability on the part of the researcher. This accountability recognizes that researchers bring their unarticulated assumptions into the interaction and the interpretation of participants’ behavior and experience. It calls upon researchers to share and check their interpretations with the person, promoting a co-interpretation relationship. Karen explains how the principles of CI teach how to gather data from users—or anyone being interviewed—to ensure that they are respected, heard, and feel understood while getting the necessary information needed for the project. 
As Karen worked with product teams, ensuring that the people on the team worked well together became a concern. The voices of the customers cannot influence the product direction if the team does not know how to use the data. But innovation is not served if the practices of using the data do not allow all voices to be heard and influence the design direction. Extensive research now supports the link between developing innovative products and having a diverse team. As teams became more diverse in job roles, gender, and ethnicity, the need to create team practices to equalize power and participation was essential. To ensure that the voice of the customer actually influences the product, CD needed to build in practices so diverse teams worked well together. Informed by social psychology, quality practices, and good team techniques, CD techniques were iterated in the daily work with diverse teams. 
Karen walks through some of the CD practices revealing how they were designed to support ethical and responsible interactions with users and between team members so that all diverse voices are heard. Karen also shares how these techniques can be used for a wide range of inquiries and process design as she has done for her latest work on retaining women in tech.