Beyond Channels: Context Is King – A 2012 IA Summit Podcast with Emily Wengert

Sean Carmichael

November 14th, 2012

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(Originally posted at the IA Summit Library)

When smartphones and tablets first emerged, designers focused on channel differences like screen size in order to understand the basics in this new area. It’s time to set aside channel-centric planning and think of a user’s context first.

Picture the customer planning their shopping list then later arriving at the store. They use their phone for both, but their needs and goals have clearly changed. Context thinking also helps us recognize when two or more channels might intersect, such as a bus stop ad with QR code and a user’s phone.

Learn how emotional, social and physical contexts, as well as the context of connectivity, can help unearth smarter features and drive roadmaps for multichannel businesses and products.

Discover how to:

  • Identify the right contexts for your project
  • Lead team brainstorms for channel-agnostic solutions
  • Share context-centric strategies with clients
  • Apply that strategy to channel-specific roadmaps

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Full Transcript.


Emily Wengert: Thank you, guys, for coming out at nine o’clock on a Saturday morning in New Orleans. I am Emily Wengert, and I am really excited to be here today. This is my first time at the IA Summit, and also my first time speaking at a conference. So it’s kind of awesome to have a place like the IA Summit to come do that and connect with my industry and all of you guys.

I asked for a stool. Thank you. When I get nervous, my legs shake, so I thought I’d sit down, and that way you guys can’t tell. So, feel reassured, I’m not nervous at all.

So I am here to talk about context and context in design. I thought it made a little bit of sense before I get started to actually give you guys a little bit of context about me. So I work at a company called HUGE. We’re a digital design agency. We have four locations throughout the world, including Brooklyn, LA, Rio, and London. I basically spend most of my time right there, in Brooklyn. We have 350 folks there, and of that, about 50 of them are in our user-experience group, which is comprised of about 42 interaction designers and eight to 10, depending, content strategists. So we have a real mix there.

If I’m not found in Brooklyn, I have a different geographical context for you, which is that I’m often in Minneapolis Minnesota. My main client is Target. I have flown to Minneapolis almost every other week for the last two years. So if you need any restaurant recommendations, I’ve got them. And there’s an amazing food scene there, actually. I can tell you where all the karaoke bars are.

So that’s a little bit of context about me, just so you know who’s standing up here. But let’s talk about what we’re really here to talk about, which is context in design. And I thought it made a little bit of sense to just start with a little bit of history. We’ve been throwing around a lot of words this week, words like “channel” and “context” and “platform” and things like that, so I thought I’d give you my take on that as a little bit of background to get us started.

So, a little bit of history. In 2002, just 10 years ago, we had a pretty simple storyline, a pretty simple world that we were designing in. We essentially had Intranets, which is what’s on the left, and websites. That was kind of our domain.

Fast-forward to today. You know where this is going. It’s not like that anymore. We now have mobile phones. We’ve got tablets. We’ve got TVs that are interactive and have interfaces as well. We’ve got car devices, screens, whatever, both for the driver as well as the back seat. We’ve got interactive devices showing up in stores. We also have crazy things that people are starting to talk about. I’m not even sure what that is. And then you’ve got Google, which just recently started talking about augmented-reality Goggles.

So you have an entire world of what I would call the digital channels that we get to play in now, and that’s just 10 years later. As we look at that, I have to say, I think we’re all in trouble, because I don’t think we can keep up with this for much longer. There is actually an incredible pace that this has happened at. Even five years ago, we were still only talking about three or four of these. Now it’s just gone bonkers.

Unfortunately, I think we’re struggling to add these on effectively. And I think part of the reason for that is that every time a new digital channel emerges, we’re approaching it in one way, in the same way, and that way is kind of a slow ramp-up into total efficiency and expertise in that channel.

So what do I mean? I think there’s a growing up we have to do. Our first response, I think, whenever a channel comes out, is we sit there and try to understand what box we’re in. We want to understand the constraints. What’s the screen size? Is there an OS? What’s the load time? We’re all about the “you can’t do” and “you can do.” We’re all about putting it in a box. And that’s us feeling out the boundaries of that particular channel. And it’s important, but it’s also kind of the infancy of thinking about the problem. It’s just the first step.

And then we try to add the user in, again, which is always good, and we hit what I would call the toddler phase. At the toddler phase, what I’ve been seeing is a lot of us end up, in order to process these new channels, we try to align it with something we already know, and we try to oversimplify it. We try to take it down to a very simple, “I’ve got it! Mobile is on the go.”

We come up with these kind of statements. We have these ideas about it. And in the end, they’re often oversimplified to the point of being actually wrong. And so I’d call them myths. If any of you guys saw the “mobile myths” talk yesterday, I nearly killed the guy because he stole the next five minutes of my presentation. He also used the word “myths.” I’d never met Josh Clark before, but that was kind of cool.

So what I’m going to do is, before moving into the now — and I’ll give you a hint — it has to do with context. But before I talk about that, I wanted to talk about this toddler phase that we need to grow out of, which is this oversimplified statement that, in the end, is wrong. I’m going to run through three oversimplified statements that I think are wrong, that we just need to blow up and get out of the room and make sure we’re not still talking that way any longer, in order to be making and building the right things.

So I’m going to give you three myths and two channels. Two of them have to do with mobile. So, that’s the Josh overlap. And then one of them has to do with tablets.

So, myth number one — mobile is just used when people are on the go. The challenge here is I think we all got confused by the word “mobile,” because “mobile” means “mobility” and “go.” And I think this is something that maybe initially was true about the channel, and it’s just not true any longer. I would actually argue that it’s the lazy man’s computer.

In user research, we’ve been doing at HUGE, anecdotally we keep hearing folks admitting to us that they’ll be sitting in their living room, and if the laptop is a little too far away, they’ll actually reach for their phone first. Even just eight feet. I mean, it’s in sight. They know they could go and pick up this device that’s really powerful and can do all these things, and they’re whipping out what’s in their pocket, and on top of that, they’re hoping they can finish the task there. They have as little interest as possible to switch to that other device that’s available to them, and they want to do it all, and they’re sitting in their living rooms the whole time.

So we’ve got data that backs up these anecdotes that we’ve been gathering at HUGE. This is from a Yahoo survey last year — 89 percent used mobile while at home. On top of that, 86 percent are saying they’re doing it while in front of the television. So it’s not just that they’re at home making phone calls, which would have been the old-school way of using mobile at home. They’re actually multitasking. They’re actually in the midst of other things, and they’re just using mobile because it’s nearby.

So that’s one myth. I just want to get rid of it. It’s not on-the-go anymore. It’s everywhere. Really, everywhere.

Because of blowing up that myth, if you guys will go along with me on that one, there’s another myth we need to blow up — which Josh also blew up yesterday, so lots of connections — and that is that people want less on their mobile phones than on their desktops. The truth of the matter is that that’s really completely not true. I’m guessing, as people in the industry, as you’ve used your phone, you’ve started to run up against that as well, that moment where you try to get out of the mobile version because it’s just not giving you everything that you need.

So what I would argue is the answer to this myth is not less, but potentially a shifting in priorities. That might make way more sense than removing content or removing features. I’ve started to notice more and more, I’ll be out to dinner with friends, and either they or I will, at one point, mention some content that we’ve seen and say, “Oh, you’ll love it,” and we go to try to get it, and then we’re running into somebody who decided that that wasn’t mobile-worthy content. So we’d originally consumed it, presumably, on a desktop, and then we’d try to get it again and we can’t get it.

That’s why, as we’re thinking about what we’re putting on our mobile devices, if you’re thinking about them sitting in their living room and sitting at dinner with friends, and in line at the coffee shop rushing out the door on their commute, assuming they’re not driving, then suddenly you’ve opened yourself up to the fact that they’re really going to want almost anything that you can give them. Doesn’t mean we don’t want to still make smart choices and prioritize, but we do need to actually give people what they’re asking for.

Myth number three. So I have now a new myth that you may not have heard yesterday. This one’s about tablets, and it’s that tablets are just an oversized mobile device or a simpler PC. And this is one that I think blew up almost as soon as the iPad got released. But before it was released, there were a lot of people trying to guess. A lot of us were trying to understand where it was going to sit.

Again, in not our goal, but our habit of oversimplification, we took the tablet and tried to align it with things we already knew, and we said, “Oh, it’s just a mobile device, bigger,” or “It’s just a PC smaller and with touch.” And the truth is — here’s our magenta — tablets are a content-consumption juggernaut, is what I would call it.

What’s fascinating is, as you start to look at the data, and there’s been a lot of coverage of this in the news and in studies, it has actually created an entirely new behavior that didn’t really exist before in digital, meaning people are willing to spend more time with a tablet than any of these other devices. You can look at time spent. If the site is accessed through a tablet, now I don’t know the stat, but it’s something in the 50s of minutes. Right? People are spending 53 minutes when they’re consuming stuff through a tablet, whereas when they’re on desktop and mobile, it’s in the single digits. You’re just in a completely different world. People are willing to do different things on their tablet. It’s carved out its own area.

Here’s a different piece of data to really seal it in as well. And this is a study from AlphaWise. It’s over a year old, so you can imagine the numbers have probably changed a bit since then. But back then, the place where the tablet — so the tablet is the magenta line. The PC is the cyan-ish line. And if you look at reading ebooks and news and magazines, the tablet’s really winning. If anything, the tablet is replacing the piece of paper more than it’s aligning itself with any of these channels that we’ve already designed for. And because of that, it means we need to think differently about the way we’re designing for that channel, and not just think of it as just this screen that’s exactly like a PC or exactly like mobile.

So, if you’ll agree with me that these myths don’t make sense any longer and that we’ve been oversimplifying a bit in order to understand a new channel, I wanted to put out there that, as all these new channels explode into our space, and as we start to think about them and design for them, we’re going to have to stop going through these steps quite in this way, or at least quite as slowly as we’ve been going through them, that we could use a whole different approach altogether. And that approach — and you turn blue when you use my approach — is to think about context instead, so what can we do around context, and to think about the problem, and maybe think a little bit less about the channel. Maybe the channel, for a moment, doesn’t matter.

What do I mean about context? I’m going to give you a non-digital example just to add some color to this. Think about cream and sugar. Hopefully you can all think pretty quickly about cream and sugar. The coffee shop moment for cream and sugar, they’re probably sitting side by side and in that context that’s exactly what you would want because of the way people use cream and sugar. You want to use one and then the other.

In fact, I was noticing yesterday that when we had the tea break we had cream and sugar on one side but the lids were still on the left so you had to run back around. When you think about context and what things you want together, cream and sugar and lids you actually want sitting all together. Then you go to a dictionary, and of course you know where this is going, cream and sugar do not sit next to each other unless you have a very bad editor.

Then in a grocery store they’re also not anywhere near each other but, in the same way, they’re also not alphabetical, hopefully. Instead you’ve got cream being refrigerated if it’s natural and sugar being in the dry foods aisle. This is an example, a simplified example, but a way in which to understand how context can really change what you might wan to do with your information.

That, for us, is incredibly true for digital design and digital planning. My advice, my thesis for this whole talk, is we need to stop being channel experts. Throw that out for a minute. It’s less important than you think. Actually, we should start being context experts.

I want to spend the rest of this time talking to you about some of the context I’ve been thinking about as I’ve been designing for the past year, especially, as more and more channels have come into my project and I’ve had to think about more and more things.

The three contexts I’m going to focus on are place, mindset, and social. Actually, I thin there’s many more. There’s cultural context and there’s several other things and I’d love to keep hearing from you guys about what other contexts you think might exist. This is where I’ve been the most focused when I’ve been working.

Let’s focus on place. The most interesting thing here is that print is doing it better and has long been doing it better than digital has. Think about this sign. This is in JFK. It’s for Starbucks. If you look really carefully, there’s smoke and then it looks like a plane but it’s almost an arrow to the left which is actually where the Starbucks is. It’s subtly using its own design to point you towards the Starbucks and then on top of that it says Starbucks coffee located at gate 25.

Somebody had to know where this sign was going to be in order for them to properly design this sign. Because digital is now showing up anywhere, it’s not back in somebody’s home office in some corner on a dinosaur machine, it’s now everywhere, we have to now start to think about where we’re going to be in a much better way.

Print has been doing well. You think about those McDonalds exit 17 turn right, all that stuff, print knows how to think about location way better than we do and we need to catch up.

That said, here’s an example of print that didn’t do so well. This is a print digital intersect. I was at my local Rite Aid and there’s a lovely QR Code here and if you can’t read it in the back it’s talking about wellness and diabetes and you can scan the QR Code to get information from Web MD about that topic.

Unfortunately, I don’t know how many of you have noticed it’s sitting next to the maxi pads which, in essence, has nothing to do with diabetes and it’s kind of an awkward context because if you’re going to go scan that QR Code you end up with your head over by all the maxi pads while you’re doing it.

A much better place for a sign like this might be in foot care which is an area where diabetics are more likely to actually be visiting that section of the store. We can think about context and design. This is a digital touch point. This is the beginning of thinking about a digital journey. You’re going to want to make sure that your touch points that are starting out in the print world or in the physical world are making sense and that you’re connecting with the context that your user’s going to be in.

Let’s talk about a digital example, also one that doesn’t quite work. It’s this iPad app. I don’t know if any of you have been in the All Saints store. There’s a few, I guess, throughout the country. They’ve done a lovely job of trying to bring digital into their store and they’ve been at the forefront of including it and they’ve done that by including these iPads clamped in throughout the store.

The real challenge is that it has no idea where it is. That iPad could not be stupider. On the upper left you can see a close-up of the screen. This is the starting screen. You get there and it’s asking you shop or store locator. You’re actually in the store already and the starting screen is asking you if you would like the store locator and, of course, you can go in and you can get a blue dot to show you that you are in the store in that second screen down there. That’s the first problem with this app.

The second problem is they’ve just taken their normal iPad app and put it on so they’ve in no way made it any smarter because of the store. The real challenge is when you end up looking at a product and you’re interested in it, it cannot tell you where that product is sitting in that store so if you want to touch and feel it you can’t do it or you’d have to ask someone. It can’t tell you what the inventory is so it can’t tell you if it’s in your size or anything like that, what colors it comes in in that store. It can’t tell you.

It has no smarts whatsoever tied to your location. In fact, it’s so stupid that you end up playing with it for a second and realizing that it’s worse and slower than just walking around the store, the normal thing that people do. It’s not augmenting anything, it’s duplicating and making it worse, in essence. Great example of how by not thinking about place and the location we’ve really missed an opportunity to think about digital in a new way.

What I would give you guys as the rundown of questions to ask yourself as you’re thinking about your problem and ability to bring place to the forefront is where is your user, what goals do they have there, why are they accessing digital in that place, and what other channels, digital and non-digital channels, are around them?

By asking those questions I think you start to really change how you’re thinking about your problem and how you’re thinking about what should come to the forefront. A great example of this really is in ecommerce.

I want to talk through a quick little study around store planning versus store visits. One of the interesting things is when you think about store planning, now I’m not worried about channel here. I’ve got a problem, client comes to me and says how can we sell more widgets, and I’m really thinking about place. Where is my user? Essentially it comes down to are they in my store yet or are they not in my store yet? That can be a core difference that you’re going to want to think about.

Think about store planning and your own behaviors. This should feel fairly familiar. You’re gong to want to make a list, you may want to find a store location, you may wan tot research a category of specific products, and it could be something you do over several days and it could be something that you’re doing on a whole bunch of different devices.

You may want to get inspired, what kind of trends do they have for me today? Let’s see. You may want to do an inventory check. Before you go to the store you want to make sure they have the thing that you want to make sure it’s worth the trip. That’s store planning. Switch that over to being in-store and they’re all tweaked just slightly and some of them go away altogether.

You’re not making your list so much. You might be adding to it, but mostly you’re checking it off. It’s speed. You’re in the store, you just check, check, check I want to grab this stuff and go. Instead of finding a store location you probably want to find product, a totally different kind of way finding. You want to figure out what aisle it’s in or whatever.

Decision making also changes, so a lot of people in stores feel some sort of pressure to complete their task. They don’t actually want to stand there for 10 minutes and research which vacuum to buy. But, they might have narrowed it down to two and they would really love a rating or a review to nudge them in one direction or another. I call that a quick decision making. It’s going to be that little extra bit of information that turns them in a new direction.

The next thing could be price look up. Maybe they’ve got the product in hand now, and they just want to scan it to figure out what price it is. Finally, additional sizes and colors. I might be looking at the product and it’s missing size medium. What can I do to figure out if that’s in the back of the store, if that’s in the store two aisles down the road, or if I need to buy it online? Suddenly, if we’re thinking about place, we suddenly change the very features that we’re going to want to bring to the forefront for that user for that moment. So that’s place.

Next up is mindset. This is an interesting one. It’s almost like a soft, touchy feely one, and we’ve been thinking about this for a long time. In some ways, this, I think, is more important than the channels mindset. I’m going to show you a bunch of examples that all come from desktop. These could have come from anywhere, and just talk through what I think that key mind sets are there.

Here’s a rather well known one. It’s Pandora. I would argue that the mindset here is, “I just want to set and forget. If it’s doing its job, the channel’s good enough, the music channel that is, I can just press play and not think about it.” That’s kind of the goal with Pandora. In fact, I’m always a little bit annoyed when I have to go in and thumb something down and say, “No, stop playing that.” Or, “Change my channel.” It’s almost like a negative that I can’t set and forget and walk away.

The way this works is people come in into a room, fake room, a digital room, and there are five DJs and they can go in and they can play their songs. People then say how much they like it and the more people who like it, that DJ gets points. It gives them the ability to make gorilla avatars and all sorts of other things.

And then there’s kind of a chat that goes on in the corner. The interesting mindset here is, at least for the DJ, is, “I want to show off. I want to show you that I’ve got the great music taste, and I’ve got good music,” but what’s also interesting is, because of this difference, because this has such a social side to it, the actual thumbs up thumbs down looks different.

Look at how small it is on Pandora, which is something you don’t want to have to hit, especially the thumbs down. Then on Turntable you go, and it’s that entire giant chunk at the bottom. It’s really because you’re thinking about a different user mindset that it’s going to change how strongly you’re going to want to emphasize something because this is meant to be a social place and not just a set and walk away kind of place. So, it really changes it.

Another one. Totally different, not music, is Pinterest. The interesting thing with Pinterest, they’ve been getting a lot of coverage and attention lately, and it’s been interesting to watch them explode onto the scene. I would argue that you come here and you just want to be endlessly entertained. In fact, you want to just keep on going. It’s like the lazy river of content.

You’re just swimming along. It’s really nice, sunny. I would argue that Pinterest does a lot of work to make you feel that way. They’re very aware of the mindset they’re after, and they’ve designed something in such a way that you can’t get interrupted.

A couple of people yesterday, in talks, were talking about flow. I’m not going to pronounce that guy’s last name, but there’s that idea that you’re just in it, and it’s whatever. That’s what the mindset is here and Pinterest does a great job of just not getting in the way of that and really making is that the centerpiece.

Finally, baby registry. I had a lot of fake baby registries because of my work with Target, so this is not my baby registry. My kid is not named Yellin. The mindset here is a really interesting. It’s, “I don’t want to kill my kid.” It really is. When you talk to anybody who’s building a baby registry, there’s fear and horror about almost every decision they’re going to make and they don’t know which ones are the big ones, either.

They don’t know, “If I pick that toy, did I just pick the toy with lead poisoning in it?” There’s this sense that it runs through everything. It’s especially around cribs. How far apart are those slats, and everything? It’s amazing the uncertainty, especially for new moms, the uncertainty that comes with this moment. If you’re thinking about that mindset and aware of it, it could totally change the features you’re going to want to put on a baby registry.

If you only think of a baby registry as a place where people add products and a place where someone else buys it, you’ve missed an entire world, an entire brand opportunity to be able to say, “You know what? We can be about reassurance. We can put in here really great comparative studies between the products, we can help you ask your friends which ones you should buy. We can really bring a lot more content to this that actually addresses this particular mindset that’s so pervasive in this time for a lot of new moms.

That’s the kind of a way to think about mindset. Here are the kind the questions that I would suggest asking. What state of mind will my user most likely be in? How might that affect their success in what I’m designing? And then, what state do I want them in? That’s where Pinterest wins. It gets them into a state as opposed to capturing a state they might be in before they get there.

I’m going to leave it up for a second so people can take pictures, because I just raced through that real fast. Awesome.

Third and final context is social. Social is actually a subset of mindset in many ways, so you’re going to see a lot of overlap, but it’s so important. There are so many facets just to social that I wanted to call it out in particular separately and emphasize that.

What are some social things? Well, we just talked about baby registry, now I’m going to talk about wedding registry, where it’s actually really different. The mindset there, if you start to talk to brides is, “I don’t want to be judged.” This takes a lot of forms, actually.

One of them is, some of them are worried about just being judged by having a registry — that they’re money grubbing and just want a lot of gifts. That’s one concern. Then there’s a fear that they’ll be judged because the price point is too high. That someone will think that they only put on really expensive stuff.

How many of you has ever gone on to a registry and then sought less of the person because of it? Anybody willing to admit that? Yeah. They had some expensive crap and you are like, “I am not buying you that stupid vase. There is just no way and spending $200 on an ugly, cut glass crystal whatever. No.” The bride is thinking about that, too. Many of them.

The third area is actually what’s phenomenal. I’ve never seen this happen. I sat in a few focus groups for brides. They all start behaving like user experience professionals. I swear. They are sitting there in the focus group and they’re starting to picture what each circle of friends and family they have around them is going to think of their registry.

They sit there and they think, “Well now, my friends are going to get me stuff like this. And then my great aunt Bertha, she is dying two buy me actual silver so I have to put that on there for her, even though I don’t want silver, but I’m putting it on there so Bertha’s happy. And then my in-laws, they’re offering something else.”

These brides are actually putting themselves in the minds of all these other people around them because they don’t want to be judged. Because they’re worried about the impression that they’ll give, and in order to make sure that the right things, the right combination of stuff is showing up here. It’s amazing to listen to them talk.

Your new mom making a baby registry is not really talking about that at all. In fact, they’re worried about being judged for someone saying, “That’s going to kill your kid.” That will be the feedback. It has the same word in it, registry, and it’s a completely different mindset and it can really change how you design.

Another social mindset is these public screens. There is a lot of in-store digitals showing up, and in this case I think there’s a little bit of fear of the public nature. Social is public. In this case things like, “People might see my size.” Sometimes you’re playing on these screens and it’s like, “What size jeans do you want?” You’re like, “Oh well, 38 waist. OK. Well, that’s for my friend, you know.”

Another place this comes up actually is treadmills, where you enter your weight in a treadmill. They have this gigantic digital. Whoever would want to put in their way at 250 point font? No one. None of us have ever asked for that, and yet, the screens are so big, instead…You almost want, it’s like your ATM pin, you want to cover it up before you enter it in. So, being thoughtful about that.

There’s another social context which is literal social, meaning who’s around you. We talk a lot about this working on Target, is the kid who probably just ran around the corner of the aisle that the mom is running after and all that is in their sphere while they’re trying to shop and while they’re trying to think about problems.

We have to think about things like that and what that means for their patience, what that means for their appetite. We are pretty strict with Target. Any in-store digital stuff we do where we don’t do a lot of video because no one wants to stand there for a minute in a store and watch a video. Their kid is going crazy, why would they ever…Because we’re thinking about this physical social context.

Another one is husbands and wives will also walk into Target together and go in opposite directions. At some point they’re like, “Where are you honey? Electronics again? OK. I’ll come get you.” Thinking about that and the different contexts can actually change the things that you design.

Finally is this idea that of social as a platform. I would argue a certain number of expectations that come with that. Here’s Facebook, and there was a big theme last year with a lot of different places duplicating their commerce site within Facebook. I would argue this was a big mess right from the beginning and the biggest piece of it is that it was such a literal duplication.

If you look here, right under where I put the word social, is a button “share.” They don’t even have a “like” button. It’s not even brought forward as being in any way connected to Facebook. You can’t do polls. You can’t set up your favorite products and say, “Hey friends, what should I get my husband for his birthday?”

In many ways this just was very blind to what it was in the midst of, which is this really important social context, and didn’t in any way leverage that. I’m going to give you a better example, and unfortunately it’s Target. I did help to design this a little bit. At the very least, it’s not perfect but it’s a start.

This is “giving with friends.” You can actually pool together money for a gift card. A whole bunch of people can contribute little bits. It’s like pass it around the envelope in the office and people can add in a little bit and the gift card gets spit out at the end of it all.

The interesting thing here is you can’t do this on target.com either. That’s a difference where it’s really using the actual platform. You can just name some friends within Facebook, it shoots them off a little message and it says, “Hey, would you like to contribute? It’s for so and so’s birthday.” Or whatever, and you can make this little thing.

Certainly not perfect, and at the very least it notices that it’s on Facebook while it does it, which is a step in the right direction. The questions I would put forward on this one. This is where social is just so broad, but there’s an emotional aspect. Could there be peer pressure? Are they nervous about anything? Is it positive peer pressure?

This comes up a lot with reviews. Am I willing to be honest in my review if I think so and so might realize that I actually really do like that really campy movie? That can be one. Proximity then, how public is your user? Then, who are they with who are also social influencers on them like their kids, their husband, their friend? Then finally, platforms. Are there any expectations that social will be present? Are you meeting those expectations and thinking about that?

A quick wrap up. A summary of everything I’ve just thrown at you. Get past the constraints of the channels. Starting there is no longer good enough. If you move past that into your toddler phase, you want to avoid those pithy but incorrect channel summaries.

Mobile’s more than on the go. It should offer just as much as desktop. Tablets really created their own new behavior that we need to be aware of and smart about.

Finally, start being a context expert. Place, mindset, social, and whatever else you guys are thinking about. Whatever else is right for the projects that you’re working on, that’s really where I think it should be instead of thinking about channels. That’s it.

[applause]

Emily: Any questions or thoughts? Any other context out there? OK.

Man 1: Since nobody else jumped up. Hypotheses on what cultural context looks like? I mean, I can come up with some. I’m just kind of curious what…

Emily: Yeah. I had the section in here, and it was timing it 50 minutes so I yanked it. [laughs] And it wasn’t finished yet when I yanked it, which is partly also why it got pulled.

The example I was showing was actually a screen shot from the Yelp app when it was released, and it had the update notes. It made the joke about the politician that was trying to name three things and then hit the third thing. So it was like, “Oh, we fixed this, and then we fixed that.” And then the third one was like, “And, um, uh…whatever that other thing was.” It was kind of playing off. It was very timely to that moment, but you had to know that politician joke, and I can’t remember. It was one of the presidential candidates. And if you hadn’t known that, you would’ve looked at this and thought Yelp had lost its mind, like, “Really? Whatever.”

So that’s at least an example of cultural context. There are certainly other ones, if you’ve designed for international executions of things, like a lot of people talk about China and Japan and the need to crowd in a lot more information. It’s part of their culture and their expectations, that it feels too Western otherwise. That’s one that’s out there. I’ve also heard that debunked. I’m not going to claim to be an expert in that, but I know there’s a lot of folks who believe that there’s just a little bit of a different cultural aspect to that one, too. Or even just if you look at India and China, the focus on less smartphone and other sorts of devices and how they use them, there are different behaviors that are out there because of that.

Woman 3: Have you guys done any research on how persistent people want context, from platform to platform, how much they want to carry the context with them?

Emily: That’s interesting, yeah. I mean, in a way, context is always around you, right? So there’s just the moving, changing context of the user themselves. I do think it’s interesting. I don’t know if this is quite what you’re asking about, but there’s kind of a hand-off between channels, and I’ve never seen anyone say, “I hope this next channel forgets where I was.” So that sense of, I could switch context, so to speak, and therefore switch channels by default, like when you’re on your Kindle app on your Kindle device versus on your phone, let’s say, and making sure those are aligned, or how I think it’s Netflix that picks up where you left off, things like that, where it continues that context, so to speak, that place.

I think the only thing we hit up against is the creepy, right? If they don’t expect you to have caught onto the fact that you are there in something, if they didn’t formally acknowledge that this is the same thing, and you’re suddenly remembering some detail about them that they only gave to you in this other very strange location, and you have those collide, there’s risk there, too, right? You almost have to hide how smart you are sometimes as a digital system, right?

Woman 4: I’m thinking about your sugar-and-cream example, and I’m wondering, especially for websites where categories are very important, does this change the way we should be thinking about maintaining consistency?

Emily: That’s interesting, yeah. I was just talking to somebody about personalized nav and whether or not nav should be reactive to who you are. And there are a few things. There’s a benefit to someone being able to learn something and not having to relearn it because you think you got smarter as a system and started to change it for them. There’s a risk there, right, that we over-engineer it all, and they’ve figured out that it’s the third link down and suddenly you’re like, “That’s your favorite link. We’re going to put it first.” They’ll accidentally click on the third link because they’re not even reading any longer, right? So there’s risks there in being too thoughtful about that and ending up actually making more of a mess than you meant to.

That said, I think sometimes when you change channels, like I said, it can be a difference in prioritization, and sometimes it’s just simplification. So if you have, let’s say, a 19-link nav, which is already a little high, but a 19-link nav on your desktop version, there can be ways to think about that in mobile, where you’re not going to want to show all 19 at once. You just use more progressive disclosure, as opposed to removal. You’re just changing how you’re prioritizing or telling a story around that content. As long as you’re doing that in ways that are more expected and using language that they’re familiar with, that can totally work, is what I’ve found.

Woman 5: Hi. I had a quick comment on that. I’ve actually worked in retail kiosk touch-screen design for 10 years, was my old background. And an interesting idea of context is something we were trying to push all the time, even before mobile, before tablets, 10 years ago. Actually, Target, I worked with them in their initial kiosk launch a million years back.

So, recently, we were working with a retailer who had done a lot of work on their website taxonomy, and they wanted to bring in-store program, but it was employee-assisted. What we found was that the employees had a completely different way of thinking about and looking for products when they were assisting customers, from a merchandising point of view and from different keywords. When we interviewed them after the launch of the system, the biggest complaint was that they couldn’t find products when they were using — basically, it was like a web transformation in the store, but it wasn’t effective because of that, and that context of the navigation needed to change.

Emily: Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s a great point. That makes a lot of sense. I hadn’t had that exact same case come up for me, but it’s interesting how in a way you’re talking about different users having different needs, and because of their role, right, it changes. I have seen a couple times that if you do bring a redesign to someone, there’s that learning curve. I mean, it’s just kind of the Facebook. Every time they relaunch, everyone’s like, “Oh my God!” And then a second later, they’re kind of like, “All right, I found it again. I’m good.”

So there can be times when you do that and it’s more a matter of patience to wait it out. But in your case, just talking about a totally different user that has a different way of thinking about the product, and of course, they’re thinking according to the store, it makes a lot of sense that there’d be differences there. Yeah.

Woman 6: I’m curious. What are some things that you’re doing to move your organization and your clients towards a more context-centric way of working? Big question, sorry.

Emily: [laughs] Yeah, that’s a good one. Honestly, I think it happens in small wins. So I’ve never had a client come to me and say, “We’d like to think about context now. Please pitch us on it and shift the thinking.” I have had clients come to us with ideas that aren’t great and, by using context-driven insight and thinking, been able to bring them a stronger way of thinking about their problem, because their problem’s often right. They know their problems really well. And sometimes their gut on how to solve it’s excellent and really amazing, and sometimes it’s just not as centered in this kind of 360 that I’m looking for when I think about context.

So I think it’s quieter wins. It’s behind the scenes that I’m bringing it in. I don’t necessarily go to them and say, “The new word is context, and here’s how we’re going to play this out.” It’s a little bit more in the individual conversations and saying, “You know what? This could be good, too,” and getting that light in my eye as I talk to them about their problem and say, “But we could also…” Bring them a little bit of energy around it and see if they can’t buy into that or find some budget to help with a more context-centric approach, which can be part of it.

But it’s a big, giant. It depends on the client, depends on your familiarity with them. I have a few clients that I don’t work with as much as I work with Target. For those, there are greater challenges to setting up that conversation, because you just don’t have the same face time and it can really change things.

Great. Well, thank you all for coming. Appreciate it.

[applause]

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