The Significance of Context in UI/UX

Have you ever seen a post on Linkedin where the two UI designs are compared? You probably have, especially if you work in the design industry. Unfortunately, lately, it has become very common to receive feedback from the Linkedin community by just uploading two UI designs and asking which one is better. 

The thing is that abstract words such as ‘’better’’, “accurate,” “beautiful,” etc. never hold up in the UI/UX design. The product is supposed to be viable so that it’s practical and improves user experience; it’s not supposed to be just “pretty.” And this is where the importance of contextual design comes into play. 

Professional designers always explain what is in the background of the particular UI, what was the problem and how they derived a solution for it. A lot of reasoning goes into a specific UI design decision. Therefore considering a Context in UI/UX is always essential, especially if you want to receive valuable and reasonable feedback on your work.

So let’s talk more about the significance of contextual design and a few frameworks that help us understand it better. 

What is Context and Why Does it Matter in UI/UX Design?

“Context is to data what water is to a dolphin” – American writer Dan Simmons. 

These words perfectly apply to the design industry. In many cases, the goal of designing a product is to sell it to customers. Therefore, the product’s main challenge is to be comfortable to use, integrate with customers’ needs, and adequately address their problems. 

Before asking a question about your UI/UX, you first need to define what kind of feedback you’re searching for. Then, you can mention previous experiences. You should also clarify why that didn’t work out and ask others to assess your work. Finally, display the entire design rather than a single UI piece. This is what a contextual design is all about.

The context of a product might include many things, such as environmental circumstances, the segment it is created for, and its primary objective. Therefore, a professional designer never starts designing a UI right away. First of all, they conduct market research, analyze competitor products, acquaint themselves with customers and the industry, define the underlying problem the product is solving, and then try to solve them.

A UX designer must understand the overall concept of the product being built. You get a richer, more relevant experience when you add context to the design. It can also help you make the UI more user-friendly, meaningful, and customized. Therefore, it is no surprise why context is the most critical aspect of UI/UX design and why it should never be neglected.

Generally, the context of the UI/UX design includes:

  • What problem are you solving?
  • What type of market does the product belong to?
  • What is the segment?
  • Is the product supposed to be tailored around a particular culture?
  • What type of brand is it?

Why Might Two UI Comparison Posts be Very Harmful?

As I have already mentioned earlier, people often like to ask on Linkedin which UI is better, with no context whatsoever. I came across this post on Linkedin several days ago, and I think this is an excellent example of how the significance of contextual design can be totally neglected.

Most of the time, people write these posts to reach as many people as possible and stand out on social media. However, they forget that their posts lack one essential thing – context and disable viewers from giving relevant, fair, and helpful feedback. 

Instead, designers are recommended to ask the question differently and explain the product’s background, its primary purpose, audience, and what they are trying to achieve with the post. 

On the other hand, there are several factors to consider as to why two UI comparison posts might be very harmful to UI/UX designers who are just starting their careers.

  • It can change the overall viewpoint of people about UI/UX design since they start to underestimate the process of user research and neglect the background of the specific UI.
  • It can promote a toxic environment in the design community on social media as no such posts enable a healthy and professional work assessment.
  • It can increase the chance of appearing unprofessional in the potential employee’s eye.
  • It might be scary for a beginner designer to look at unfair feedback and unreasonable critiques. 
  • It can discourage beginners from thinking outside the box, and therefore, it might lead them to create inferior products that will affect the industry in the long run.

Frameworks That Help You Grasp the Context

“How Might We” Questions

Enough complaining about designs lacking context. How can we try to avoid that in our work?

Well, you can use several frameworks to inculcate a deeper understanding of the context both in your product and the way you receive feedback about it.  Let’s look at one of the most effective ones – the ‘How Might We’ Framework.

The How Might We Method is a design thinking practice in which participants just write existing problems into questions that start with “How Might We?”. These questions can spark plenty of unique ideas. 

‘’How Might We’’ is also one of the best frameworks that help designers to emphasize context. Here are some of the examples of HMW in design thinking:

(image from nngroup.com) 

Several tips help HMW questions be practical, generate more ideas, and display a larger context of a specific product.

  • The question should be as general as possible. Close questions with just Yes/No answers will not help you to solve the problem, and it will also not show enough background.
  • The question should address the problem. Otherwise, there is no point in using this framework since it will not be able to solve the existing problem.

Avoid using negative words in the HMW statements such as ‘’decrease’’ and ‘’remove’’ and use more words like ‘’develop’’ and ‘’increase’’. It can produce more ideas while also increasing creativity.

Open-Ended Questions in UX

Another valuable way of emphasizing context in design is using open-ended questions in the process of user research. These questions allow people to provide more general and comprehensive answers, which is the ideal way for the designers to receive data from users since it leaves room for exploration and discovery and allows them to understand the richer context. 

The Yes/No questions are usually used in a survey or if you want to reach a bigger audience. In any other scenario, using open-ended questions is more beneficial as it helps you understand the complete user background. On top of that, it is a method of getting people to elaborate on a subject. 

Let’s look at the examples of open-ended questions:

Why Use These Frameworks?

Getting people to think through these questions might give you insights into factors you didn’t think could be associated with the problem you’re trying to solve. Such things might include intentions, behaviors, and problems – factors that are highly critical in defining the context of design and ultimately designing a product that solves the deeper user problems and makes your product stick.

 

 

Author: Mako Sharashenidze

Editor: Keti Getiashvili

Meet the authors

We are a 150+ people product design, software development, and growth marketing agency from Tbilisi, Georgia. Delivering hundreds of successful projects for industry-leader enterprise companies and startups earned us 100+ international awards, partnerships with Laravel, Vue, Facebook, and Google, and the title of Georgia’s agency of the year in 2019 and 2021.

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