Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Contexual Design at Work

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Never call something state-of-the-art merely by the new choice of anodized paint. A new product - something worth nothing - is a piece made of multiple parts. Designed by multiples. Created by multiples. Because any new product developed today is almost never single-handedly delivered, this brings forth the need of a contextual and unanimous methodology of generating agreement across multiple teams.

Contextual Design, as they call it, combines design, marketing, delivery, and support all in favor of the customer. Similar to how Zappos have wholehearted dedication themselves to customer service, contextual designers are dedicated to building models around the coherent environments people work in. Going in with contextual inquiries (one-on-one interviews with 8-12 people) for details and using team interpretation sessions to extract insights from those stories can capture the issues at hand, draw work models, and develop a shared view of the customer's needs. Think of yourself as a "sportscaster," recording every tool, sequence of actions, method of organization, and interaction you see.

However, we all know systems are never designed for just one person. Designing for a general customer population is probably your next best bet. Consolidating data and using affinity diagram maps (usually via Post-It notes) to render relationships in a visible plane can help organize ideas and reveal strategies otherwise hidden from your "ah-ha" moments. With this information, you can now unleash those lovable lists, "The four functions of this product is to..." You get the idea.

Next, your work redesign sets the stage for delivery of non-technology pieces of the pie. This step primarily for the stakeholders and presents the vision behind the design - its place in the advancement of "x." Follow up with storyboards and scenarios to illustrate your future world, backed by customer data. And finally, putting in place User Environment Designs (UED) help contrast the old system with the new. It shouldn't be long until everyone appreciates your marketing and creative genius.

So, while it's no easy task, contextual design solidifies a system in context of the user's point of view, provides a holistic perspective throughout the development of the product, and gives the design team a coherent system to work with for both customers and the organization they work for.


David B. Rondeau said...

Thanks for the kind words about the Contextual Design process! This is a nice description of how it provides value and what makes it unique. If anyone wants more info about the process, you can go to the InContext Design website (the company founded by the creators of Contextual Design)

How did you learn about Contextual Design and what kinds of projects have you used the process for?

David B. Rondeau
Design Chair at InContext Design
Twitter: dbrondeau

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