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JAMES DEELEY: Context is King

Say goodbye to responsive technologies and say hello to a UI with customer experience and consumer context at its heart

JamesDeeley

Say goodbye to responsive technologies and say hello to a UI with customer experience and consumer context at its heart

JamesDeeley

Director of creative strategy at Amaze

If content is king, then it’s about to be usurped. As far as smart devices go, it’s now all about the context and the brands that succeed will be those that realise this early on.

It is fairly well accepted now (and indeed expected) that smart devices, such as phones and smartwatches, are clever enough to deliver relevant content for a user. For example they may know where you are based and then alert you with the appropriate weather updates or traffic news – nothing surprising there, right?

The next big leap however is for these smart devices to provide the appropriate content in the right context. For instance, when travelling by car, for various smart technologies to work most effectively the smartwatch and the smartphone need to communicate together and with the in-car system to ensure that all three are not performing the same functions. In an ideal world, one technology would navigate, one would alert to the best parking spots available and one would send a message to the restaurant to notify that you’re five minutes late. This is what we mean by ‘context’ and why it needs to dictate your content and user experience strategy.


Contextual design is a natural progression from Web 2.0, responsive design, and mobile-first and content-first approaches. It’s a clear indicator that we’ve reached a ‘new level’ in design development


As an outcome to the need for technology working smarter in this new consumer context, there is now a lot of hype around contextual design. So, what is it and why is it a brave new world?

Contextual design is a natural progression from Web 2.0, responsive design, and mobile-first and content-first approaches. It’s a clear indicator that we’ve reached a ‘new level’ in design development and it’s one that essentially marries together the rapid development and adoption of a wide range of devices, within the ever-changing consumer landscape.

The end result should be the development of a network of smart devices all around the individual, all collecting and analysing our data as a fully intelligent personal ecosystem. As this ecosystem develops, then so will its impact on how we interpret and understand physical interactions within designed environments. In short, when consumer expectations change, this will influence what happens in each digital channel and this means devices are likely to shift too. A quick look into the wearables market for instance shows how 45 per cent of current smartphone users either own or plan to buy a wearable device within the next 12 months, perfectly demonstrating the beginning of a big shift in technologies.

The idea of a single consistent and ‘one-size-fits-all’ experience across all channels is therefore no longer relevant or appropriate. Instead, each will have to have a more natural and distinctive role to play in our ecosystem. We’ve moved beyond the idea that we need purely responsive design, we now need contextual design.

So what does the future hold for the humble website? Websites could become digital galleries or online libraries, allowing consumers the opportunity to pause, savour and get the full story. While if you’re paying bills, shopping or checking the weather, then it’s likely that these tasks will be fulfilled by your smart device. These quick-fix interactions just don’t need websites anymore and digital design needs to reflect this change too.

Just how far can we go? In all honesty as far as your imagination can stretch. We could see a development in two distinct directions. The first is an increasingly personal and intimate relationship with devices that learn, adapt and anticipate from our moods, patterns of behaviour and daily routines. The alternative is less obvious, but instead more of an ‘invisible infrastructure’ that connects the physical world and made up of a world of sensors, beacons and hidden servers.

In either direction however, it is clear that technology and devices will be immensely sophisticated and fully responsive to our needs – consequently their design will need to reflect this. The result? A myriad of devices and worldly touchpoints, operating systems and digital services that will develop a personality using data about our needs, and the context of our wider lives.

Sound far-fetched? Yes, maybe, but then so did the iPhone in 2006.


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