It’s All About The Context

The first step in creating great designs – and often the most overlooked one – is recognizing that what you create will not be used in a vacuum.


It’s not pretty to think about your mobile app audience using your latest brainchild while on the toilet, but it is often the reality. If you don’t keep that in mind (can you say “easy to mute”?) , your users will dump you faster than… well, let’s just say they won’t be back.

Fortunately, it’s not that difficult to get a mindset that will let you think “context”.

Watch your target audience
Channel your inner Jane Goodall and get out there and observe your users in their natural environment. Pay attention to their surroundings – are they huddled in a cubicle all day, making only occasional forays into the break room for sustenance, surrounded by a dust covered collection of old Mario Brothers memorabilia? Are they constantly on the move from one end of city to the other, Bluetooth headset shoved so deeply in their ear it might qualify as a cyber extension? Are they perched on the edge of a second hand armchair in a hipster coffee shop typing feverishly on their MacBook Air while balancing their eighth double espresso on their knee? Understand how, where, and why the might use your creation – and that will give you insight into what you should and shouldn’t build.

Say it with me – You are not your user
It doesn’t matter if your built your creation for people just like you. The minute you started to make it, you became a builder not a user and as such are now disqualified from being a stakeholder in the requirements definition. That is, once you cross the line from user to maker, you lose your objectivity. Fortunately, if you can accept that you are not a good representative of your target audience, you will be able to keep an open mind and observe what that audience actually needs. And don’t worry – your target audience doesn’t know what they need either. Which brings us to our next tip.

Users know what they want, not what they need
Ask any 4 year old what they want for dinner and you’ll get some variation on “chocolate soup with a side of ice cream” What they need is closer to a kale, blueberry, bean, and carrot salad with a tall glass of water. Users know what they want, but are usually poor observers of their own habits and behaviors. As a result, they will lead you astray as to what they really want if you fail to couple their feedback with observational data.

So, get out there and see how the people you want to create for work and live and play. Then make something that fits into that rhythm of life and makes some part of it easier, faster, or fun.

Have fun – go play!