cxpartners 1Always design a thing by consideringit in its next larger context –a chair in a room,a house in an environment,an environment in a city planEliel Saarinen
2This is a minimalist movie poster.You know the movie – but youmay not realise it.http://reramble.wordpress.com/2012/04/15/20-posters-for-disney-classics/
3With a little, uh, context, you canquickly figure out it’s Snow Whiteand the Seven Dwarfs.http://reramble.wordpress.com/2012/04/15/20-posters-for-disney-classics/
4So now you can guess what thisis...http://reramble.wordpress.com/2012/04/15/20-posters-for-disney-classics/
5And this onehttp://reramble.wordpress.com/2012/04/15/20-posters-for-disney-classics/
6And even this one. Contextallows us to communicate inways that are elegant, simple andefficient.http://reramble.wordpress.com/2012/04/15/20-posters-for-disney-classics/
7Those are the qualities we needwhen we’re designing for thedevices people use these days.
8I want my phone tocontextually decide whento notify me.When I’m asleep (it’s dark,phone stationary, quiet)then it won’t buzz.But if it’s important then itshould still alert me.A real person told me thisUsers expect us to usecontext to help them dothings with less fuss.Though theirexpectations of what’spossible seemunreasonably high.
9Here is exactlywhat you needright now.OKSomething like this. It’s the endof user interface design. And it’scontext wot dun it.
11TimeLocationEnvironmentSocialDeviceActivityIndividualhttp://thenounproject.com/noun/computer/#icon-No115http://thenounproject.com/noun/iphone/#icon-No414This is a pretty typical model ofcontext. A person in a context.The device reads the context andreturns the right options. You’llhave seen many versions of this.In this model, people seek tocategorise different types ofcontext.
12Google uses social context tomake a guess about where youwork. It turns typing into a yes /no click. Spooky but efficient.
13My computer remembers my taskcontext. When I restart, it opensup my applications and webpages as I left them.
14EyeEmThis app uses Geofencing to adda status to my photos.Unfortunately, it’s made a wrongguess. I wasn’t at that coffeeshop – I was next door getting ahaircut. It’s frustrating when appsget context wrong and we haveto correct them.
15You can teach your devices aboutyour temporal (time) context. Forinstance by setting ‘Do notdisturb’ so that you’re not wokenby notifications during the night.Which is fine – but when youmiss that one urgent call, you losetrust in this feature. It doesn’tknow what’s important.
16Google MapsGoogle Maps aims to read myemotional context – if I shake thephone, it knows I’m cross andasks for my feedback.But this just annoys me. I shakethe phone because I’m walking.This feature obscures the mapsthat want to see.
17Google NowGoogle Now does a good jobbecause it gradually learns aboutme and adds more information toit’s picture of my context.So it knows when I’m probablyabout to leave the office andgives me travel warnings for thejourney home.Time and Location.This model helps us describe ourpredictions – but they’re reallyjust guesses and they’re oftenwrong.We can improve the guesses bycombining more than one type ofinput.
18Of course this raises privacyconcerns. If you’re going to dealin context, you need todemonstrate yourself to betrustworthy. You have to earnthat trust over time. You can loseit very quickly, too.
TimeLocationEnvironmentSocialDeviceActivityIndividual19http://www.flickr.com/photos/yourdon/4064143718/But we’re still guessing.
11:37New YorkSubwayAloneBlackberryEmailSarah20http://www.flickr.com/photos/yourdon/4064143718/You can know all this stuff, but itdoesn’t really answer thequestion: what does she want todo next.
21Paul DourishPaul Dourish points out thatcontext is inherantly uncertainand unknowable.Instead of trying to measurecontext, he says we need waysfor people and their devices tomaintain a shared understandingof context.
22PsychologyForDesigners.com£2In other words: the key tocontext is conversation. There’splenty of psychological researchinto conversation. This book bymy colleague Joe Leech showsyou how to make use of it. Youshould buy a copy.
23cxpartnersHere’s a story about aconversation with a computer.Joe was cycling to work listeningto music – no screens, but Siri isavailable.
24What’s this playing?It was on random play so heasked what he was listening to.
25Siri couldn’t figure out what hemeant. So it did something else.
27What’s this playing?Here’s what most of us wouldhave expected to happen:
28Siri can answer‘What song is playing’ but not‘What is this playing?’Siri has no sense of context.
cxpartners 29http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0Z1QGpTZSoOn the other hand, people arevery good at figuring out topicseven when they’re not mentionedin a conversation. So it doesn’ttake us long to figure out whatPete and Dud are talking abouthere.
30Time flieslike an arrow.Fruit flieslike a banana.Unlike computers, we’re great atdealing with ambiguity – so goodthat we play games with it.
31What’s this playing?What was that?A bit of you know what.We shorten speech by using pronouns ordecorate it will allusions. To understandit, you have to understand context. If wecan understand how, then we’ll be betterable to design for context.
32What’s this playing?Clarke and Brennan came up withthe theory of grounding orcommon ground inconversations.
33What’s this playing? This?It’s the process by whichparticipants find agreement onthe topic of conversation.
35On the iPod.What’s this playing? This?It’s Del the FunkyHomosapian.ThisOr, put another way, agreeingwhat this is.
36Google Now is getting better atcommon ground. If you ask it aquestion...
37…and then follow up with anotherusing a pronoun, it will rememberthe common ground.So to deal with context, we needto remember topics acrossinteractions.
38On the iPod.What’s this playing? This?It’s Del the FunkyHomosapian.ThisTime Pressure / Error / Shared KnowledgeOne key idea is that people seek ‘leastcollaborative effort in finding commonground.The approach they use depends on timepressure, the risk of error, and theirassumptions about shared knowledge.Rather than annoying computers asking forclarification all the time, people seek to findthe most efficient way to reach agreement.We can use this to build betterconversations.
39What’s this playing? This?Another method, ConversationalAnalysis (CA) points out theimportance of Repair events inconversation – that’s when oneparty clarifies the conversation.
40Here’s Siri noticing an ambiguityand asking for clarification.The user has set a reminder for‘tomorrow’ but it’s just aftermidnight. So do they mean ‘in themorning’ or ‘the next day’?Repair events are important.
41Here’s Google noticing that anemail contains a link to a GoogleDrive document that the userdoesn’t have permission to view.Again, it looks for clarification.
42Fantastical for Mac lets youcreate events in something likenatural langauge. As you do so,you can see Fantstical continuallymodifying its undertstanding ofthe entry – like someone noddingas you’re talking. You can alsostep in and make changes.Fantastical’s writers understoodtheir software isn’t perfect andcreated a very human interface todeal with that.
43I want my phone tocontextually decide whento notify me.When I’m asleep (it’s dark,phone stationary, quiet)then it won’t buzz.But if it’s important then itshould still alert me.A real user told me thisSo can we fix this problem?Really it’s not the phone that hasthe answer.
44Call: Susan HuntermobileJim Hunter came up with thisidea. When you call someonewho’s got an appointment on hercalendar...
45Call: Susan HuntermobileHer phone says:Do not disturb ends 14:00Cancel ProceedYour phone should warn you andgive you the chance to override.
46Call: Susan HuntermobileHer phone says:Do not disturb ends 14:00Cancel ProceedIf your call is urgent (like a taxiwaiting outside) then you knowto proceed. If not, no need tointerrupt. In other words, weneed to facilitate the kinds ofcontextual decision making thatwe use when we go over tosomeone’s desk.
47In that case...Are you busy? No.In conversational analysis, theseare called pre-sequences. Theyhelp establish the context for aconversation.
48Providing additional informationcan also help establish context. InApple’s ‘Find my iPod’ you cansee how much battery is left onthe device – which establishes asense of urgency. How often dowe use additional information todistract instead of augment?
49CONTEXTWhat we’re seeing is that tryingto establish context isn’t reallythe right problem.
50CONTEXTRELEVANCEInstead, we should be seeking tofind out what’s relevant (to thisuser at this moment in time).
51Wait, what was all that?If you must measure context – use multiple sourcesRepair and negotiate – never assume you’re rightUse least collaborative effort – time, error, shared knowledgeKeep track of what this is – remember across interactionsAllow users to negotiate context between themselves, tooUse pre-sequences to set up interactionsExtra information should enrich context – don’t distractWhat really matters is relevance – focus on thatBut now we have some rules to help us.
52PsychologyForDesigners.comThanks to @mrjoe, the other folks at@cxpartners and Little Big Detailsfor examples.