BDConf: Cennydd Bowles presents Context Bloody Context

In Context Bloody Context, Cennydd Bowles (@cennydd) gets specific about the blurry, gray-area beast that is mobile context.

  • Context isnt just about the here and now, it’s about the physical, digital and social structures that surround an experience. During a football game biased referees, the roar of the crowd, the teams’ winning/losing streaks, etc all influence the current event.
  • Context is real and we can’t deny its presence. However, we often oversimplify content into easy-to-digest stereotypes.
    Desktop stereotype = comfortably seated, bright room, large screen, high bandwidth.
    Mobile stereotype = always running to catch a train, distracted, and therefore results in location-specific, bite-sized content.
  • While “on the go” is still a proper use case, 60% of smartphone data is consumed indoors.

Methods to better determine context

  • Learn from the device — Gather contextual information from the device and use sensory data to help determine context. However, context is too subtle to assume that you can fully determine context solely with device sensory data. Correlation != causation when determining context from simple device attributes and sensory data.
  • Learn from research — it gives us confidence that we are truly addressing the users needs, it encourages user empathy and provides serendipitous moments.
  • User interviews can tell you a lot about user mental models and behaviors. Don’t be afraid to deviate from a script to learn more from the users. Observe people’s behavior first-hand.
  • Go to where the users are. Learn how their environment influences how they approach an experience
  • Longitudinal study — studying user behavior over time can be much better than one-time tests. Establishes patterns of usage.
  • Participatory design — not for the faint of heart, but it involves users in the design process. How would a user design a tool if they could? Requires a lot of skill to manage the study and extract any learned insights.

Designing for context is all about DETAILS

  • Designing for context is all about DETAILS: Device, Environment, Time, Activity, Individual, Location, Social
  • Device — what the device is and what it can do affects the design. Form follows function doesn’t apply anymore because interactions are digital, not physical. Form, OS capabilities, UI conventions, Feature detection, future trends. Don’t replicate native conventions in the browser. Embrace the neutrality of the web. We have a duty to anticipate future trends and use them to influence our designs today.
  • Environment— Weather, noise and light, information sources. Don’t try to solve every environmental problem, but be considerate of user environment to enhance the experience in subtle ways.
  • Time— device class habits (see When People Use Different Devices), synchronous activities, enhanced functionality, available time
  • Activity— The nature of the task, digital/physical, posture. The importance of a task might trump the limitations of the device used to complete it. The web can do more than a broadcasting model. Short, tangential interactions for.
  • Individual— nature of relationship, preferences & dislikes, mental attitudes. Devices are very intimate. Past actions can influence current behavior, but be careful because intent can be unpredictable.
  • Location— habitual or mobile? location-specific needs, privacy implications, and accuracy turn raw location data into user experience enhancements. Location is useful to desktop users as well. If your service does not explain the benefit of accessing their location, they will deny it.
  • Social— who’s nearby? Others involved, social networks, device sharing.

Design for Context

  • Don’t punish users for their contexts. It’s arrogant and lazy. Strive for content parity, regardless of experience.
  • It’s not about experience consistency, it’s about experience coherence. Assume gently and err on the side of coherence
  • Empower the user to adapt the experience to their context.
  • Revisit decisions – Think about flexibility and emerging trends in usage. Adapt your designs to reflect real-world usage. Watch people use your products. It’s more useful than any analytics or data.