The influence of environmental factors on experience is easy to understand. It’s why there’s currently a shift away from designing solely for mobile to designing for context. This shift recognizes that it’s not simply about the technology or the device. As the technology becomes more invisible and ubiquitous, it’s our understanding of the situation that becomes essential. This requires a step beyond simply saying that ‘they are smartphone users,’ to modeling and observing real scenarios full of personal and social nuance. These scenarios surface how the environment, not just the device, colors the experience and shows where history and intent can subtly steer how a person feels in that moment. Understanding this takes deep empathy and paying attention to the people you interact with. Which, after all, is the essence of good user research.
The when and the where
The when of an interaction is incredibly telling. Times of day, work cycles, as well as frequency and depth of interaction, all impact the experience. What’s more, they vary from person to person. Great experiences feel like they are crafted especially for you. They fit the moment. When we combine this with other environmental factors, such as location or velocity, we can craft the experience even further. This creates new opportunities for delivering the right information, in the best format, at the optimum moment. By thinking about the when and where of an experience we can design flexible and responsive systems that fit with diverse needs and interaction rhythms.
History and intent
Each time we engage with a thing, we bring to it the sum of our experiences. There’s an old UX adage, “users use best what they use most.”* It’s why we talk about muscle memory, design patterns and learnt behaviors, because learning new ways to interact can be hard; our existing habits can block us. However, we can quickly adopt things that ‘feel’ natural.’ Intuitive design is the result of leveraging common understanding and the natural behaviors that fit the activity at hand. This combination of history and intent frames the when and where of the activity, giving us the context.
By always considering context we can better understand the where, when, why and how of an experience, helping us to empathize with people, and ensuring we design for their world.