Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Contextual Design in a Nutshell

Some recent work has prompted me to discuss on this blog contextual design. Contextual design is a process to create user-centered applications. The process was created by Hugh Beyer and Karen Holtzblatt and they have written some very good books on the subject.

Essentially, when you sit down to begin the process of designing a new web application, software application or website, you want to understand the context in which it will be used among many other things. To prompt you to investigate this process further as you work to design and develop user-centered applications, here is a snapshot of what contextual entails. Think of the process as series of models you create to create a single picture of what your application will do for its end-users.

  • Workflow model – think of this as the coordination of work and efforts along with interactions and responsibilities the application’s target audience has in their daily activities.
  • Sequence model – these are the steps the target audience must do in order to accomplish tasks or complete specific activities.
  • Cultural model – the norms, influences or pressures end-users experience in their work? Can your application help alleviate them or help them overcome these obstacles?
  • Artifact model – these are the documents, content or products that are produced as a result of the work.
  • Physical model – what is the environment in which they work and what are the tools, technology and resources used as part of their work.

As you think about these five models, also think about how one flows into the next. To me, they seem to support one another as feeds into the next. Working to create “models” may seem like a huge undertaking, but in reality much of the information gathering is up to you. Be sure what you have to ask is clear and objective to get to the answers you are looking for.

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