Designing with context

March 22, 2013

Great article by Cennydd Bowles describing the seven flavours of context:

Device context

  • What devices will this product be used on?
  • How about in a year’s time? Three? Five?
  • What can those devices do? What can’t they do?
  • What sort of interactions do these devices suit?
  • Are there unique device capabilities we can use to our advantage?
  • How does our site work on devices that don’t have those capabilities?
  • Are there device capabilities that might make life more difficult? How can we mitigate their impacts?

Environmental context

  • Will the site be used indoors or outdoors?
  • Should weather conditions affect my design?
  • What environmental information sources are relevant to the interaction?
  • Will a user understand why, and how, my system is adapting to the environment?
  • How can I make my product feel natural within its environment?

Activity context

  • Do users have simple tasks to fulfil, or a more complex network of activities?
  • Are these activities or tasks digital, or do they support real-world activities?
  • Does the current activity have a physical component? How can we support that?
  • Are the interactions likely to be lean-forward, lean-back, or both?

Individual context

  • Can we use any stated preferences to tailor the system to an individual user?
  • Is it appropriate to let users explicitly state preferences for this interaction?
  • What sort of emotional connection will users have with our site, and the devices they access it from?
  • What mental attitudes do users bring to the interaction?

Location context

  • Do users have location-specific needs?
  • Will access to the user’s location improve the service my app can offer?
  • How can I best communicate why a user should grant location access?
  • Can I present location information in a more human-friendly format than long/lat?
  • How can I be sure my location assumptions are accurate?

Social context

  • Will the app be used in solo, private contexts, or in public?
  • Are there ways to reduce any risk of embarrassment or public discomfort for the user?
  • Who else is involved in this activity other than the end user?
  • Is there benefit in asking the user to authorise my app with their social networks?
  • Does my app protect the user’s sensitive information with sufficient care?

—————-

Context design principles

  • Context is multi-faceted.
  • Don’t penalise people for their contexts.
  • Assume gently.
  • Allow adaptability.
  • Revisit your decisions.
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