Recently I conducted a use context analysis at one of our customers near Los Angeles. Beside the amazing stay in beautiful California the preparation, conduction and evaluation of the analysis was once again quite interesting. It is always exciting to get to know our real users, their characteristics and the environment in which the product is used. For this reason I would like to share my experiences and the methodology of this analysis with you.
To develop a product that best fits to the user’s needs, the context in which the product will be used should be considered from the very beginning of the product development. Even before a working prototype is available, a small team of people with a background in usability testing and / or human factors should be aware of the characteristics of the users, the tasks they will carry out and the circumstances of use.
When to conduct a UCA?
Whenever you want to develop a product that is usable you have to think about its purpose and how it supports its users in their daily work. This analysis is essential for any work on usability and should be performed as early as possible during product development. It helps you defining usability goals and requirements for your product that should continuously be evaluated with typical end users.
How to start?
The method implements the principles of ISO 9241-11 (Guidance on usability) and has already been applied in a variety of commercial organizations where user experience and the software quality are of concern. In general this method starts with bringing together a range of people who have a stake in the product development (project managers, product managers, designers, users, human factor professionals,…) and focusing their attention on contextual factors relevant to usability. They should have knowledge of the intended users and usage and should know
- what the product is for
- the characteristics of the product
- how the product will support users in their daily work
- in which environment the product will be used
The meeting should be moderated by an experienced usability professional, knowing the method and its process. It is a cost-effective way to elicit the information, but it has to be ensured that everyone has an opportunity to express their views, without being affected by any power relationships that may exists between the participants.
The output of this meeting should represent a description of the context of use and should contain following information:
- Product description
- User types that have been identified and will be considered. User types that are indirectly affected by the product and its output.
- Characteristics of user types, their skills and knowledge, experience with other products, job characteristics and tasks.
Furthermore this analysis can also be conducted by performing individual interviews by obtaining real users that have been identified within a prior stakeholder meeting. In the course of a participating observation the interviewees are obtained in their context doing their tasks. Based on a structured interview guideline you discover more important facts and opinions held by the potential users of your product.