Process overview[ edit ] The contextual design process consists of the following top-level steps: contextual inquiry, interpretation, data consolidation, visioning, storyboarding, user environment design, and prototyping. Collecting data — contextual inquiry[ edit ] Main article: Contextual inquiry Contextual inquiry is a field data collection technique used to capture detailed information about how users of a product interact with the product in their normal work environment. This information is captured by both observations of user behavior and conversations with the user while she or he works. A key aspect of the technique is to partner with the user, letting their work and the issues they encounter guide the interview. Key takeaways from the technique are to learn what users actually do, why they do it that way, latent needs, desires, and core values. Detailed work models are also created in order to understand the different aspects of the work that matter for design.

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Beyer Contextual Design is a structured, well-defined user-centered design process that provides methods to collect data about users in the field, interpret and consolidate that data in a structured way, use the data to create and prototype product and service concepts, and iteratively test and refine those concepts with users. This is the core of the Contextual Design philosophy - understand users in order to find out their fundamental intents, desires, and drivers.

But these are invisible to the users - so the only way to glean them is to go out in the field and talk with people Although based on theories from several disciplines, including anthropology, psychology and design, Contextual Design was designed for practical application with commercial design teams. Since its original development, Contextual Design has been applied in a variety of industries and also used as a vehicle to teach user-centered design principles in engineering and design programs.

Contextual Design has primarily been used for the design of computer information and IT systems, including hardware Curtis et al and software Rockwell Parts of Contextual Design have been adapted for use as a field usability evaluation method McDonald et al Contextual Design has also been applied to the design of digital libraries and other learning technologies Notess , Notess Contextual Design has also been used in a variety of other industries, including web applications, process reengineering, consumer product design , manufacturing, and automotive and medical device design, to name just a few.

Contextual design has also been widely used as a means of teaching user-centered design and human-computer interaction at the university level Weinberg and Stephen , Larusdottir In Contextual Design, the term work practice refers to the complex and detailed set of behaviors, attitudes, goals and intents that characterize a set of users in a particular environment. All manner of activities and design domains are characterized by work practice - not only workplaces. For example, there are obviously work practices associated with business pursuits like office work, but there are also "work practices" associated with life events such as making purchases as a consumer, driving an automobile, playing music and even watching television.

The first is that people are not consciously aware of their own work practice; all of their knowledge is tacit. This is especially true when people are taken out of the context of their everyday environment. It is only when users are immersed in normal contexts of use that they can become aware of their own work practice - what they do in detail and why. They become "aware in the doing," as Michael Polanyi puts it Polanyi The second is that work practice is complex and varied, and that useful design data are hidden in everyday details.

Many systems fall short of expectations because they fail to take into considerations seemingly insignificant details of work practice - details that are not consciously available to users when they are not engaged in the ongoing work. Contextual Design holds that design team members must go into the field and observe and talk with users in their natural work or life environments - their natural contexts - in order to understand work practice.

This is the principle of context from which the process draws its name. This aspect of Contextual Design leverages the work of earlier ethnographic methodologies Garfinkel but extends it in important ways.

And so Contextual Design prescribes interviews that are not pure ethnographic observations, but involve the user in discussion and reflection on their own actions, intents, and values. The interviewer actively questions the user and partners with them to draw out and understand their work practice in detail.

Articulate what matters about the work together. And all pages of the site look like they are part of the site - a single page could not be changed Contextual Design provides methods that help a team keep the design coherent. The Contextual Design vision provides a high-level coherent direction; the storyboards provide coherence of task; the User Environment Design ensures structural coherence across the system.

All these methods - which are explained in the following section - encourage the designer to think about the entire system, rather than treating each part as its own independent problem to be solved.

This provides users with a seamless Implications for the designer: Use concrete representations to maintain system coherence: function, structure, layout, and flow across the system. Whether written on the back of a napkin or captured in a high-end modeling tool, designers need a tangible representation of their thoughts.

From sketches to formal diagrams, drawings enable designers to work out their ideas, capture their thinking, share it with others, discuss it, and identify weaknesses. Contextual Design supports this need for a physical representation throughout the design process.

Work models make work practice - how users approach their work - explicit, public, and sharable. The User Environment Design shows the structure of the system as experienced by the user.

Each technique in Contextual Design has its own tangible representation that supports doing the work, capturing the result, and sharing it with others. These physical representations in Contextual Design are described in the next section.

Implications for the designer: Use drawings, sketches and models to capture key design considerations at every step of the process. Copyright terms and licence: Unknown pending investigation. See section "Exceptions" in the copyright terms below.

Figure 8. For most projects, the main focus is nearly always on the end-users, but it is important to consider and evaluate the needs of the other types of customers as well. Contextual inquiry is an explicit step for understanding who the customers really are and how they work on a day-to-day basis.

The difficulty is that, as we described above, work becomes so habitual to end-users that they often have difficulty articulating exactly what they do and why they do it.

So the design team conducts one-on-one field interviews with users in their workplace to discover what matters in the work. These are not traditional question and answer interviews. The interviewer and user, through discussion, develop a shared interpretation of the work. This inquiry, done in context, is where Contextual Inquiry gets its name. Team interpretation sessions bring a cross-functional design team together to hear the whole story of an interview and capture the insights and learning relevant to their design problem.

An interpretation session lets everyone on the team bring their unique perspective to the data, sharing design, marketing, and business implications.

Design teams seldom have the critical skill of seeing the structure of work done by others, looking past the surface detail to see the intents, strategies, and motivations that control how work is done - and typical development methodologies do little to encourage this perspective.

Because this is immensely important, so in Contextual Design, work models are used to capture the work of individuals and organizations in diagrams.

Five different models provide five perspectives on how work is done: The flow model captures communication and coordination between people to accomplish work. It reveals the formal and informal workgroups and communication patterns critical to doing the work. It shows how work is divided into formal and informal roles and responsibilities. The cultural model captures culture and policy that constrain how work is done.

It shows how people are constrained and how they work around those constraints to make sure the work is done. The sequence model shows the detailed steps performed to accomplish each task important to the work. It shows the different strategies people use, the intents or goals that their task steps are trying to accomplish, and the problems getting in their way. The physical model shows the physical environment as it supports or gets in the way of the work. It shows how people organize their environments to make their work easier.

The artifact model shows the artifacts that are created and used in doing the work. Artifacts reveal how people think about their work - the concepts they use and how they organize them to get the work done. But designing for a whole customer population - the market, department, or organization that will use the system - depends on seeing the common aspects of the work different people do.

Consolidation brings data from individual customer interviews together so the team can see common pattern and structure without losing individual variation. The affinity diagram brings together issues and insights across all customers into a wall-sized, hierarchical diagram to reveal the scope of the problem. The affinity diagram brings together issues and insights across all customers into a wall-sized, hierarchical diagram to reveal the scope of the problem and the opportunities. Consolidated work models bring together each different type of work model separately, to reveal common strategies and intents while retaining and organizing individual differences.

Together, the affinity diagram and consolidated work models produce a single picture of the customer population a design will address. They give the team a focus for the design conversation, showing how the work hangs together rather than breaking it up in lists.

They show what matters in the work and guide the structuring of a coherent response, including system focus and features, business actions, and delivery mechanisms. Popularized by Alan Cooper, a persona describes typical users of the proposed system as though they were real people Cooper Their use is becoming more widespread, though with mixed success. Contextual Design personas are built from the detailed data gathered through Contextual Inquiry interviews, so they have the richness and depth needed to drive design.

Now a team must invent the design solution using technology to transform the tasks, and possibly also designing new business processes to streamline tasks or new services to support the market.

A Contextual Design team invents these solutions through visioning. The vision captures a story of how customers will do their work in the new world the team invents. A vision includes the system, its delivery, and support structures to make the new work practice successful. It is intentionally rough and high-level - a vision sets a possible design direction, without fleshing out every detail.

This enables the team to see the overall structure of the solution and ensure its coherence. A vision includes the system, its delivery, and support structures to make the new work practice successful 8. To become actionable, the team must define the detailed function, behavior, and structure of the proposed system.

Each storyboard describes how users will accomplish a task in the new system. They show the steps the user will take and the system function that supports each step.

The task may be handed off between users, and may be supported by several systems operating together; the storyboard ensures the task remains coherent across these boundaries.

A storyboard is represented as a sequence of "freeze-frame" sketches or cells, each one capturing one step in the overall task 8. Just as architects draw floor plans to see the structure and flow of a house, designers need to see the "floor plan" of their new system - the basic structure that will be revealed by the user interface drawing, implemented by an object model, and that responds to the customer work.

This "floor plan" is typically not made explicit in the design process. The User Environment Design captures the floor plan of the new system. With an explicit User Environment Design, a team can make sure the structure is right for the user, plan how to roll out new features in a series of releases, and manage the work of the project across engineering teams at a level of abstraction that is above screens and dialogs. Using a diagram which focuses on keeping the system coherent for the user counterbalances other forces that would sacrifice coherence for ease of implementation or delivery.

And the simpler a testing process is, the more time is available for multiple iterations to work out the detailed design with users. Paper prototyping develops rough mockups of the system using notes and hand drawn paper to represent windows, dialog boxes, buttons, and menus. The design team tests these prototypes with users in their workplace, replaying real work events in the proposed system.

When the user discovers problems, they and the designers redesign the prototype together to fit their needs. Rough paper prototypes of the system design test the structure of a User Environment Design and initial user interface ideas before anything is committed to code.

Paper prototypes support iteration of the new system, keeping it true to the user needs. Refining the design with users gives designers a customer-centered way to resolve disagreements and work out the next layer of requirements.

After several rounds of prototyping, the larger structure of the system design stabilizes. At this point, the design team can continue iterating areas of the user interface. Once the structure and interaction design are largely stable, the team can develop and test interaction and visual design options with users.


Contextual Design



The Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction, 2nd Ed.



Contextual design




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