No matter how you discover it, contextual and environmental information is essential to building a product or application that users will love.

The Ugly Truth: Your Beautiful Design Doesn’t Exist in a Vacuum

September 14, 2020

Everything has context.

You’re in the midst of a digital experience as you read this post. Pause for a minute and think about this experience. Where are you? What type of device are you using? What sounds are you hearing?  What were you doing right before you started reading this post, and what prompted you to read it in the first place? What are you headed to do next? How do you feel while you are reading this post?

For many people, digital experiences can often be fraught with pressure and distraction, which can lead to confusion, even in simple interactions. Sometimes, these critical points of context are ignored – even when the product team employs high-quality, user-centered experience design and testing. The stakes high for the complex interactions that happen in digital products.

The user isn’t using the product in a vacuum.

Other influences on their experience may make a design less effective. If a product’s design doesn’t account for the full context in which a user is engaging with the product, it can be far too easy to miss the mark. Launching a product that results in poor adoption and low success rates is an expensive mistake for any company to make.

Examples of this can be found in many industries and technologies. For example, one of our clients’ users did not always have access to the internet while they were using an application. The application was designed to require internet access to save work, but there was nothing in the product design to alert the user that they needed internet access to save their work. We heard from users that this created a lot of frustration and rework for them when they first used the product and discovered this design flaw. By adding an indication of connectivity status along with markers for which pieces of work had been saved and when that last save happened made the user experience much smoother and pleasing for users.

For another Useagility client, our research determined that the bulk of users were primarily discovering their product through Google searches because the site included a robust glossary of industry definitions that often surfaced when individuals were searching “what is ____”. While maintaining this glossary was not one of the company’s core competencies, our research findings made the case for them to not only continue to support the glossary on their site but also to make it more robust and optimize it for lead generation. Had they not done this research into their site design, they may have removed the glossary and missed an important business opportunity.

There are many ways to unearth relevant contextual information to help ensure that the user experience is well-designed to meet users where they are in the real world.

Journey maps, service blueprints, contextual inquiry, and pure environmental observations are all excellent methods for context and ecosystem discovery. User interviews are also invaluable, especially to validate the findings of other methods or when those other methods are not feasible.

No matter how you discover it, contextual and environmental information is essential to building a product or application that users will love and that will keep them coming back time and time again.