As part of the SI 501 course, we conducted a full contextual inquiry for the University of Michigan Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery Department. We utilized interviews, observation, affinity walls, and models to convey physical and communicative patterns and deficiencies within the department to help facilitate a smooth transition to a digitization process.


We began by setting up the interview protocol and recruiting nurses, dentists, and IT and front desk staff. We interviewed them in their normal work environment, and then observed them for about an hour.


Interview notes were translated into individual statements on an affinity wall, a tool used to capture the main findings from the observations as a group. Due to the sheer amount of interview notes we had collected, it took several hours to collaborate and arrive at mutually acceptable high-level solutions and actions for the department to take.


We utilized the ethnographic information from our interviews to create a physical model of typical travel patterns in the department. In this model, we found breakdowns and inefficiencies that could be easily fixed to make life easier for employees.

The interview notes also contributed to a communication model for the department, which showed where oral and physical communications (documents, prescriptions, etc.) occurred and broke down.

Alicia Kildau and I presented the results on behalf of the team with suggestions for the client as to how they might overcome these breakdowns in communication and physical inefficiency. The client was very receptive to and wanted to implement many of our conclusions.


  • Time Frame
  • Sept 2011 – Dec 2011

  • Role
  • Project Manager

  • Methods & Skills
  • Affinity Walls
  • Ethnographic Interviews

  • Tools
  • Omnigraffle
  • Post-its
  • Powerpoint

  • Team Members
  • Alice Ma
  • Alicia Kildau
  • Ashley Clark
  • Dan Lund

  • Deliverables ↓
  • Final report
  • Models
  • Presentation