The User’s Context

The interfaces we build is like a new world for the user. They discover it just like a story. They have their own expectations, experiences and feelings about it. They build a context within it. This context is often forgotten when we are designing a new interface.

The way they arrived at your webpage also matters. Did they search for your product and Google sent them? Or did they click a link in a blogpost somewhere? Did they click an ad? If you are not designing your interface to address the differences in these expectations, you are already losing the user’s context.

Once the user lands on your product, she starts building a context. She reads some text, scrolls down a bit, then sees a graphic. A short video appears. Finally a CTA button shows up.

Your user has changed her context as she arrived at your CTA button. Now she has a point of view about your application.

Over the years I have seen companies build context-aware applications. But I have also seen the loss of the user’s context in the process. Once we’ve lost sight of it, we tend to:

  • Over simplify things because we are not sure what’s going on in the user’s mind at that point in the application.
  • Miss the most expected and obvious-in-hindsight function in the interface.
  • Get the placement wrong.
  • Deny the user a simple delight by getting their expectations wrong.

All of this and more can be avoided by simply remembering the user’s context.