Wolfram Nagel
Sep 23, 2014 · 5 min read

Designing for Multiscreen — Context is King! (4/6)

The 4th one of 6 things you should consider when developing strategies for digital services across multiple screens

More and more people are using more and more screens. Users expect to access information on all relevant screens. Thus digital services require a holistic strategy.

Together with Pascal Raabe, from the UI/UX studio ustwo™ I’m going to introduce six practical tips (in an article series) that can help you improve your own digital products and services by employing an effective multiscreen strategy.

Overview

  1. Think multiscreen
  2. Know your screens
  3. Put the user at the centre
  4. Context is King
  5. Multiscreen-ready layout and content
  6. Challenges are chances

This is the fourth article. The other articles will follow on a regular basis.

4) Context is King!

You should know, understand and define the relevant contexts of use and the parameters user, device, mode of use, situation, and environment.

The context of use is complex with many facets. It is mainly defined by the user, the devices being used, and the physical and social environment. The boundaries are blurred, so it’s not enough to simply differentiate between a stationary and a mobile situation. Whenever we use a mobile device we’re in a mobile context of use. The mobile context of use is therefore potentially everywhere.

The context of use is influenced by the user, the device and the parameters environment, situation and mode of use.

Environment

In every environment you’re bound by particular circumstances. These circumstances can influence one another. The private environment and generally all private spaces are not accessible to strangers or outsiders. A semi-public space is usually only accessible to a limited group of people, often staying only temporarily. The public space is accessible to everyone. Everybody can participate in the situation. It is not private. When you’re on the move, you’re changing location and are on the way from one place to another. The current place changes continuously until you reach your destination.

Situation

Depending on the environment, place, and intention users are, consciously or unconsciously, in a certain situation. In a mobile situation they predominantly use portable devices that can easily be held with one or both hands. The duration of using the device is typically short and intermittent. A mobile situation, such as walking or cycling, is the window between beginning and end of a location change. A stationary situation on the other hand means using the device bound to a particular place.

Mode of use

Depending on context, device and intention of use the user is in a defined mode — whether they’re aware of it or not. For example, if they want to relax, they choose an appropriate device and enters a mode that supports this need. There are two modes that a person can be in and in which they can use the appropriate devices. Modes and situations can intersect and are not always clear cut. In lean-back mode the user is predominantly relaxed and passive. They interact with the device sporadically and temporarily as they consume information and be entertained. The lean-forward mode on the other hand implies that the user is concentrated and active. They interact with the device typically on a sustained basis and without interruption. They actively exercise influence over how information is displayed.

The context of use method

The context of us method (PDF) allows us to look at the circumstances of the context of use in detail. In his description of the method, Martin Maguire mentions important questions and parameters for analysing and defining the context of use. Who does what? When and why do they do it? What are the technical requirements and external factors? What is the general environment?

Detailed questions

The aforementioned rough classification handles the most important parameters. The context of use can be examined and defined in a more detailed manner.

Here’s a list with additional potentially relevant parameters:

Users/operators

  • User type(s) (homogeneous or heterogeneous user group?)
  • User’s role
  • User characteristics
  • Attitude, frame of mind, behavior, physical state
  • Motivation
  • Knowledge, skills, qualifications
  • Technological competence, media affinity
  • Possible restrictions

Task/activity

  • Type of task
  • Goal, purpose, result
  • Characteristics
  • Physical and mental requirements
  • Risks, safety requirements

Time

  • Time frame
  • Point in time during the daily operations
  • How much time does the user have at his disposal?
  • Situation

Technical equipment/features

  • Devices (hardware, software, performance)
  • What devices are available?
  • Network, connectivity
  • Connection quality
  • File access and the availability of contents and information

External influences (physical environment)

  • Where is the user (physical site, location)?
  • Environment/surroundings
  • Movement
  • Body posture
  • Weather and temperature (insofar as this is relevant)
  • Constant or changing conditions
  • Light situation, noise
  • Background noises
  • Time pressure
  • Is there information or are there interaction options in the surrounding area (through or with products in a shop, film poster, etc.)?

Social environment/social situation

  • Are strangers present?
  • Are friends or acquaintances present (personally, via telephone, or not at all)?
  • Have these persons been integrated into an information source and do they help during decision-making?
  • Relationship to (surrounding) persons (social interaction)
  • Number of persons surrounding the individual person (quantity)
  • Attitude/behavior of the persons surrounding the individual person
  • Attentiveness, distraction, disruption, interruption
  • Communication skills

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If you enjoyed the article, perhaps you want to have a look into my book. The Context of use is explained in detail in chapter 4. :-)

Stay tuned for the fifth article, because you need a Multiscreen-ready layout and content!Any questions? Just send me an e-mail.

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With the Multiscreen Experience Project we gathered and developed a number of patterns, methodologies, and insights and compiled them in a book. In this article series I introduce the most important aspects of a useful and user-friendly multiscreen offering.

Update (12/14/2015): If you’re more interested in the topic. My new English book “Multiscreen UX Design” is available sind 14th December 2015.

The described topic is mainly and detailed covered in chapter 4. You can use the code COMP315 for 30% off (incl. free shipping, worldwide).

Wolfram Nagel

Written by

Senior UX Designer (@TeamViewer), UI Architect, Multiscreen Evangelist, Author of @msxbook, Initiator of @dmfndr. I love the web, my 👪 and ⚽️🚵‍.

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