Context is for Kings… from a Product Design Perspective

Raúl M. Vicente
Feb 27, 2018 · 4 min read
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Photo by Pro Church Media on Unsplash

In the last years, I have been thinking about product design and how it differentiates from other design-related disciplines. One of the thoughts that always come to my mind is related to the importance of context.

Product design is a holistic discipline. It demands skills in various subjects including technology, design, or business. Context is important when designing solutions for user flows, usability or user experiences. Context is knowledge basically the knowledge you need to design proper experiences.

Context in relation to product design is about having a clear vision during the working process. In other words, gathering the necessary information to build a product. We can safely say that when people have the wrong information they make the wrong choices.

So what is context? Google meaning search says: “the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood”. Context is what unveils the interrelated parts of a specific subject and shows how they connect to the problem we are solving.

Moreover, without context one can feel disengaged with their work. Think about last time you were given a task without any sort of brief or relevant information… Did you feel motivated and engage with your work? or you felt you were being neglected and the task you were given was not important enough to take the time to explain it properly?

Thinking like a king

In one of the Star Trek Discovery episodes, Captain Gabriel Lorca said: “Universal laws are for lackeys, context is for kings”. This sentence made me think about the relation between context and leadership.

Thinking like a king is not about indulging your ego, or giving commands. It’s about decision-making. In my opinion, it means to take responsibility, have a clear vision of your work and lean prioritize. Shortly, focus on the large picture and contextualize your decisions.

Mental note: If you are a leader, provide context, if you want to lead gather context.

Give purpose by asking the right questions

When you have the context you are more likely to give purpose to your work. Having a purpose will motivate your work. This is very basic, but it helps to illustrate my point. You should start by asking the right questions.

  • What’s the purpose of this product or this feature?
  • What is the problem we are trying to solve?
  • How many users will be affected?
  • How solving the specific problem will affect other areas of the product?
  • What will be the benefits of resolving the problem?

There might be other questions specific to your product. Write those questions and find the information you need.

Let’s think of context in relation to other of our interactions in life. For instance when we want to give an opinion about political affairs. If you have sufficient understanding of the politics you are about to discuss –history, culture, geopolitics, sociology,…–, your point will be valuable, clearer and might even influence other people. To the contrary, your opinion would have little value to others and lack clarity. This can be extrapolated to product design or other areas of social interaction. Context is key in any situation in life.

Gathering information

I like to think of different phases during the working process; product discovery and product development. During the product discovery phase is when we search and analyze information to solve design problems.

You can get information from inside or outside your organization and other different sources:

Users: interviewing users is the best way to getting to know what they are looking for when they are using your product and which are the pains the experience. Find those pain points and fix them.

Competence analysis: is essential to understand your market, get ideas, learn and differentiate.

Reviews: They should keep you well aware of what the general public opinion about your product is. Read and learn about your customers directly.

Developers: they understand the technical issues of the product, they should have solutions on how to solve them. They will also be able to estimate times on developing new features.

Product managers: they have a large understanding of the strategy you are going through on each of the sprints and they should have answers about what each member of the teams is working on.

Quality Assurance, they understand your product weaknesses probably more than any other teams in the organization.

Customer service and business: they should know all that relates to the monetization of your product and available resources.

To summarise:

  • Context is for kings… focus on the large picture
  • Keep the focus on the problem scope and how to resolve it
  • Prioritize wisely
  • Ask the right questions
  • Collect information from as many sources as possible.
  • Analyze and iterate

If you have made it so far until reading all the article you deserve a clap 👏 Thanks for reading!!

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