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Levels of context: The impact of zoom on the contexts we research, design for & implement within


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Presented at UX Australia in August, 2011.

To design the most appropriate products or services, designers need to understand the contexts in which the product or service will sit. With product and service design, there are levels of context to consider, creating an important framework for our research, design and implementation processes.

The 1977 Powers of Ten documentary by Charles and Ray Eames inspires and illustrates levels of context well, showing a frame of focus and then zooming out by a power of ten to show that the initial frame is sitting within an even larger context, with new variables to consider at each level. Applying this zoom construct to design, each level focuses us in on different factors, and this focus impacts the type of research, design and implementation approach we need to take. For example, imagine you are asked to design a mobile application. The levels of context for consideration could be:

Screen elements (ie. space constraint; screen real estate; legibility; colour)
Entire application within a phone (ie. purpose of app within world of other mobile apps; phone form factor; operating system; updates; support teams)
Phone within a hand (ie. computing versus talking; haptics; keyed entry versus touch)
Person with phone on a bus using the application (ie. screen glare; one-handed entry and use; privacy; situations of use)
Janna will demonstrate practical ways for designers to consider these levels of context from the beginning of a project and how to integrate this thinking into every facet of the project. By zooming in to different levels of context we can appropriately understand the people, organisations, settings and situations surrounding the products or services we’re designing. Understanding these levels will impact project focus, research scope, clarify design dependencies, and illustrate what is and isn’t in our control as designers.

Published in: Design, Technology, Business

Levels of context: The impact of zoom on the contexts we research, design for & implement within

  1. 1. LEVELS OFCONTEXT:The impact of zoom on thecontexts we research,design for & implement Janna DeVylder Meld Studios @jdevylder
  2. 2. levels ofcontext ?
  4. 4. “What are we? Wheredo we live? Who areour neighbors?Children and grown-ups, we all ask thesequestions.”“We begin tounderstand how bigthings are and howwe are related tothem.” Cosmic View: The Universe in 40 Jumps. Kees Boeke, 1957.
  5. 5. WHO & WHAT are we designing for?
  6. 6. WHAT ISCONTEXT?the set of circumstances the interrelatedor facts that surround a conditions in whichparticular event or something exists orsituation occurs |
  7. 7. BRONISLAWMALINOWSKI1884-1942“In the field one has toface a chaos of facts,some of which are sosmall that they seeminsignificant; others loomso large that they arehard to encompass withone synthetic glance.”
  8. 8. “He (Malinowski) understood that a text writtenby these people into this language could not beunderstood by any foreigners or by people livingoutside this society even if translated into theirown languages because each message broughtmore meanings than those expressed through thewords, meanings that could only beunderstood if accompanied by the situation.Thus, Malinowski introduced the notion ofcontext of situation, meaning by this the"environment of the text" .” [Halliday;1989;6]
  9. 9. you!
  11. 11. HISTORY OFTHE MICROWAVE = an accident
  13. 13. CULTURE
  15. 15. DAILY LIVING
  16. 16. IN SITU
  17. 17. FORM
  18. 18. INTERFACE
  19. 19. manufacture retail install dispose usePRODUCT LIFECYCLE
  22. 22. PROJECT SCOPE which aspects of the product/service are we designing?“What scale of where does that fit in toimpact could our the larger picture?work take on?” what is your direct client’s scale of responsibility?
  23. 23. what secondary researchRESEARCH and data is available to the project? has other primary“What data do I research been conducted?need to collect,from whom, in can this research inform other parts of thewhat situations, organisation or team?and to what what parts can I observe,detail?” what must I infer, and what should I provoke?
  24. 24. SYNTHESIS& ANALYSIS how does zooming in and out impact our view of the“At which levels data?of context arethe insights with so much data, what should we focus on?emerging?”
  25. 25. CONCEPTING &PROTOTYPING will the product work“What contexts within the knownshould we use as contexts?texture around are there now alternatethe product/ contexts that will help us see the product in aservice?” di erent light?
  26. 26. BUILDING &IMPLEMENTING how can we show those further down the path“How can the what they’re building for?detail be true to how can we ensure thethe larger implementation isproduct/service context-sensitive?context?” how do we choose materials & systems for the right context?
  27. 27. The details are notthe details. Theymake the design.Charles Eames
  28. 28. Thank you!Janna