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What is contextual design?

Sheza Naveed

Contextual design is a user-centered design that aims to focus on users and understand their needs and desires. Contextual design was designed for practical application, and since its inception, it has been applied in a various industries. It promotes that going into the field to understand users and their actions is imperative.

Motivations and key principles of contextual design

  1. Principle: System design must support and extend users’ work practice. Any design or technology should be designed to support the users’ work practice. Work practice refers to the elaborate set of users’ behaviors, intents, needs, desires, and goals in a specific context. Designers should be aware of the work practice of their users and design according to that.

  2. Principle: People can be experts at what they do; however, they cannot articulate their own work practice. Users are not aware of their own work practice at times, and work practice is complex, so data is often hidden in the front details. Filed interviews by going into the users’ context and talking to them can reveal important information about work practice.

  3. Principle: Good design needs partnership and participation with users. Users are not always able to identify and convey their own practices and behaviors, so interviews cannot be identified as pure ethnographic observations. Designers need to actively discuss with users and fit into the real-time scenario instead of just asking questions and not jelling in.

  4. Principle: Good design is systemic. Contextual design helps designers to make the design coherent and to think of the entire system as a whole and not just individual parts separate from each other.

  5. Principle: Design depends on explicit representations. All methods used by contextual design involve their own tangible representations that support the process, e.g., performing an action, gathering results, etc.

Description of the contextual design process

Contextual design is a very useful technique that is used to understand the users better, and consequently to design better for them by being aware of their context.

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Sheza Naveed
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