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One aspect of UI/UX design that many developers have firmly internalized is the fluidity of design and development trends and their ability to change and change over time. Always on the cusp of something new, something more innovative, and something far more understandable, design trends change when your users do. User-centric design means that the end user has to adapt to the way their ideal interface will function.
There are, of course, limitless strategies that allow developers to reach the user’s perspective while using an interface, and within the many design principles, a contextual framework is a tool that many have used and developed. A contextual framework refers to observing people, or users, interacting with and engaging in a design in their contextual environment.
It aims to capture users’ values, preferences, and perceptions first-hand, embracing an anthropological approach to user testing. But with a myriad of ways to reach a user’s perspective, why is contextual information a valuable asset to developers? The value comes from the ability to discover different layers of research for a full-focus lens that exposes the user through a clearer angle.
Contextual design and empathy
Frankly, human-centered design would be lacking without empathy at the center to tie the experience together, but empathy can be enhanced when developers understand and know their end audience best. With contextual design, observation becomes a valuable tool that allows both developers and designers to fill the gaps in the user’s perspective by viewing their interactions within a design.
Related: Building a Better Brand with Human-Centric Design
There are many questions that can be answered by this process, such as: How long does it take for a user to complete a task? How long do they stay on a page? What trajectories do they follow once a task is completed? Were there any cognitive frictions or pain points while navigating the trajectories?
With a contextual framework to guide this testing, it can be as specific as a question, or as broad as developers need it to be. However, one aspect that remains the same is that this area of testing is meant to better understand the user, build empathy, and use it as a tool for a much more powerful user experience.
Context informs marketing strategies
As mentioned, innovation is always in flux as it enters new stages with changing ideas and trends. The best way to stay informed is to understand the core of your design: the user. Many marketing strategists use contextual design for marketing practices to understand the relationship between a consumer and product. Developers use the same data collection methods, and contextual design can also be helpful when designing e-commerce websites.
Related: Think Like a User to Really Innovate
This is important to ensure that a design can successfully achieve conversions based on simply observing a participant in contextual research. Within ecommerce platforms, it becomes a two-fold benefit for both developers (understanding design constraints, touchpoints, etc.) and stakeholders such as businesses and brands who want to better understand their consumers by discovering whether or not their digital interfaces are converting . However, further data assessment of consumer feedback on a genuine product would have to be done separately.
Refusing to stand still in a market and within digital design trends is essential, so audience analysis needs to be contextualized.
Context crosses all data collection intersections
Context itself is the gathering of information, and with each product or interface observed, it provides scope for data findability and understanding. Not only does it analyze a better understanding of a user’s thought process, but it also helps build research for data-driven design in the future. It allows designers to collect components of the design that users seem to be drawn to more and use them within other design elements in interfaces that conform to methodologies with actionable insights.
In addition, pain points and touch points can then be iteratively adjusted and refined for the best possible outcome in design and product development. It just isn’t enough to guess and predict what your target audience prefers. Sometimes they don’t even know it themselves until it’s brought to them. Demonstrating all the possibilities of a design can thus also open up their perspective, and it can reveal preferences that can later be analyzed for usability refinement.
Related: Implementing Web Design Best Practices With Iterative Methodologies
Integrate contextual design into your workflow
A contextual design perspective is not only reserved for design agencies. It can be used in all industries to better assess your audience, your company and your product/service. Through introspection, many areas for improvement can be discovered and implemented in your own workflow structure.
Abort the process
Before reaching out to your target audience for contextual questions, either remotely or in person, the best approach is to break the process down into four principles: context, partnerships, interpretation, and focus.
Context enables those who observe to detect and assess groups in their natural, everyday environment. Partnerships build on the relationship between the observer and those being observed. Interpretation ensures that all findings answer uncovered questions. Focus is for future refinement.
Understanding how to break down the research process allows for a smoother contextual design process and a deeper understanding of each area that needs to be aligned with proper procedures.
You’ve Had a Contextual Research Session – Now What? Your research results will achieve best practices when your data is used to improve your design or product based on the session. However, leveraging that data by iteratively making data-driven and actionable changes can only come to fruition if it is cycled iteratively. This ensures careful implementation and prototyping.
Interfaces designed contextually are paramount, especially when carefully developing designs intended to enhance a positive user experience. The details of design are best understood when developers are able to peek inside the minds of their users and audience and get their perspective – and ultimately this can be accomplished contextually.