Group project of contextual inquiry course

Project Type


Fall 2017 (3 months)


Design consultant


Contextual inquiry, Affinity diagramming, background research


As a department responsible for event planning and conference management for camps and conferences in the summer, Conference & Event Services (CES) Department of University of Michigan dedicates in aiming to create memorable event experiences for guests.


How might we achieve an efficient experience for CES staff?

The main problems of CES are concerning to the communication and information transmission between several different software. Since their clients are all in different software and the functions of those software overlap, they have to realize the communication between software by manually inputting data, which is dull and repetitive. Thus, the client requests for a software which ideally can encompass all the functions of systems they are using, or simply enhancing the current situation. 


Project timeline

We worked with them about 4 months to find a way to solve their problem. We use the contextual inquiry method to find their pain points, and then gave them our final recommendations. 



The director of Conference and Event Services provided us with five members of the organization that had various job roles to interview. These included two supervisors, two client relations managers, and one sales representative. Three were from different “branches” of CES, one was technically outside of the organization (she did accounting for CES, but also other areas in the University) and the sales representative oversaw many of the “branches.”

Following each interview, our consulting group as a whole would meet within the week to review the notes and re-listen to the interview that was conducted. Notes were taken on the recording as well. While the recording was playing, the person who conducted the original interview would periodically stop and explain part of the interview that may not have been made clear from just the recording. An example of this would be body language or something that may have been mentioned before the recording started. It would also be paused to acknowledge points that may have been deemed as more important or interesting and directly related to our problem or solution.


We also did interview annotations to mark what was surprising and did reflections. This helped us understand the data from our interview sessions by critically assessing the notes taken, questions asked, and insights gathered. Also, it increased the usefulness and productivity of future interviews. 

Sample of Interview Annotations



Pain points of CES staff

After conducting our interviews and analyzing them, we discovered several things about CES.

  • Each department within CES more or less uses different software and doesn’t want to lose any of the specific features they’ve become accustomed to.

  • Transitioning to an existing program is difficult because it needs getting all of the employees of CES to be able to use it.

  • The amount of different programs being used is more of a problem for administrators and people in more of a managerial position than for the people actually using the programs.

  • Data is not consistently handled across CES


Affinity diagramming

After gathering our data, we put keynotes on sticky notes and created affinity wall where we were able to see common patterns department wide. The affinity wall allowed us group related ideas. After grouping those affinity notes, we created the higher level to summarize the overall information of the various groupings.  From the affinity wall, we were able to visualize and identify key problems. We were able to make conceptual relationships between the problems and ultimately recommend our ideal solution as well as two more rational and quick solutions.

In the process of making our affinity wall

Our final affinity wall



Change for even better

There are three recommendations our team has constructed to help CES to solve their problems. Specifically, the solution that we highly recommended can basically meet all their needs. However, the total cost of this solution cannot be overlooked, which is $25,000 to $75,000. Alternatively, we offered our clients another two solutions which are more feasible for them. Although these two recommendations do not solve the whole problem, they still help them make some progress.

The main characteristics of the ideal integrated systems are enumerated below.


• Managing all the housing, dining information

• Generating bills/invoices correctly
• More intelligent and user friendly
• With a corresponding app on mobile device

• With an integrated authority management system

• Manage client relationship efficiently



Develop an integrated system

Solution 2 is easy and feasible because it only requires CES to hire extra people to help them with data transmission and data entry jobs.


  • They can be either part-time or full-time employees.

  • They should be responsible for making sure that the data they input are as correct as possible, without typos or omission.


Hire more people to import and
export data manually



Develop more APIs to transmit data

The key point of the problem of data transmission is that most of the systems CES is using are independent from each other, APIs can be introduced and bridge the gaps between these systems.


© 2018-2019 Chelsea Guo