Contextual Design in the Age of Mobile

Contextual Design’s classic user-centered design techniques held true for 25 years until everyone started having small mobile computers in their hands. Mobile devices freed people from being tied to the computer. Data became available anywhere, anytime and that changed the nature of lives and the nature of contextual design practice. This is changing the data we collect, the models we need to represent, and the design processes to help drive new innovations into their products.

Crafting a ‘Cool’ Product Experience

Today, products like Snapchat, Tinder and Slack are wildly popular applications that have changed the way people interact and communicate because of their cool user experiences. But how did this come to be? What are the attributes and experience of a compelling product? What are the key levers that drive ‘cool’ in a product? Can ‘cool’ actually be manufactured?

7 Design Principles of a Cool Product Experience

At the very core of a cool product experience is joy. It is the what and the how. But what makes joy?

Joy in Life (i.e., what)

  1. Accomplishment. When we take things that are hard and make them simple, this makes us happy. That’s why people like But task accomplishment alone doesn’t drive passion for a tool. The biggest challenge in life is not getting a single activity done, but getting all our activities done. We used to design for the context of a task — today we must design for the breadth and depth of life. Everywhere we go, we are interweaving different activities. When we’re in the elevator, we’re paying a bill. We are continuously using all the small spaces of time wherever we are to get our life done. When we enable people to ‘chunk’ their activities into small things they can do in small blocks of time, we’re golden.
  2. Connection. It’s about your relationships and knowing you’re not alone in the world. It’s about getting to the people you really care about. It’s about texting with your boyfriend every night before you fall asleep. It’s about the salesperson sitting in their car Skyping with a client in Switzerland so they can see the non-verbals. It’s the connection of sending pictures to the grandparents so they feel close to the kids that are not there. Today, the collaboration and the connection between people can be real, even as we span different time zones. Great products let us connect and let us find new connections.
  3. Identity. When you were a kid, did you picture yourself in the role you’re in now? I certainly did not. We form our identity over and over again. If you deliver products that help people feel more professional, celebrate who they are, or tell their life story, that’s great. But you have to find out what those identity elements are. Identity by itself isn’t enough, but if you deliver function with an identity element, you get double points.
  4. Sensation. We are sensual beings. Sound. Colour. Movement. Smell. Today, products are stimulating our senses. However, it’s not the aesthetic design that makes a product cool (sorry designers). It’s the lack of a good visual or industrial design that makes a product uncool and detracts points.

Joy in Use (i.e., how)

5. Direct into Action. From thought to result. Like magic. You have a question? Ask Google. You can even ask with voice. Along with accomplishment, this is the most important factor.

6. The Hassle Factor. The evil twin of direct into action. The joy comes from relief that the technical hassle is gone. No preferences, no set-up, no wires, no boxes, no log-in, no complexity.

7. The Learning Delta. Up and running in moments, with tiny nudges and maybe a few arrows that explain a few features. No documentation, no training course.

With these concepts integrated into the overarching contextual design process, I promise you can create cool products that people will love.

***If you liked what you read here, you might be interested in my two-day workshop on Contextual Design in March 2017 at Betahaus in Berlin. Click here to read more about it and sign up!***