OPINION: Context of use remains a brilliant test of relevancy


19 Apr 20141 Share

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You should never judge your enemy until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes. Because after doing so, you’ll be a mile further away from him and you’ll have his shoes. And you should never plan a web project without walking a mile in the shoes of your customers.

Theoretical physicist Albert Einstein said, "If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about solutions." Nowhere is this more true than in considering how and why your customers may wish to use your website.

The bit that some marketers miss is that many (in some cases all) people visit your site because they want to leave it as quickly as possible to get on with their lives. This discipline of thinking about who and where and why people use your website has become known as "context of use". The process of considering context of use is so powerful that often simply by thinking about it, visualising it and discussing it, content and functional priorities become virtually self-evident. Some 55 minutes of considered discussion often does conclude with five minutes of note taking the answer.

I was recently struck by how true this was when I read an excellent e-consultancy report regarding how central London restaurants were (or weren't, as the report concluded) using mobile search to their advantage.

Think like Einstein

Before thinking about how the restaurants could make best use of mobile search, let's embrace some Einstein thinking and build up the context of use to see how thinking about the user and the environment in which they are accessing the site could positively impact design thinking and ultimately the user's experience of a restaurant's service.

The restaurants under the spotlight were all in business districts so lunchtime trade was a massive element of their success or otherwise. The diners they were seeking to attract were under time pressure, wanted to make a dining decision quickly and didn't want to invest too much emotional or intellectual effort in making a decision. Certainly there was nothing like the type of effort that might go into arranging a restaurant for an anniversary or a spouse's birthday.

This was a decision that was just beyond spur-of-the-moment and was loosely based on a number of criteria that any restaurant manager who spoke to his or her customers (pretty much all of them) would know. The restaurant needs to be convenient, it needs to have availability and the menu needs to appeal to those who are going for lunch.

I appreciate that I don't have access to the analytics and so this is speculation, however, it's not unreasonable to assume that based on the latest figures from JWire (which states that consumers are twice as likely to use mobile as opposed to desktop as a source of information about where to eat) that a significant number of users will access a restaurant's website on a mobile device, which helps us understand the parameters of use, specifically a small screen and central London 3G speeds, which can be precarious at best.

So our 55 minutes invested in thinking about the problem tells us that users are making an at-best semi-considered purchasing decision. Their three big decision drivers are menu, availability and convenience. They demand a mobile experience that puts them in control of that decision-making process.

So when it comes to the five minutes of thinking about the solution, it almost writes itself. UX planning for a central London restaurant involves optimisation of mobile search, leading to a simple website (either responsive or mobile-optimised) which illustrates menu, location and contact details in order to enquire about availability.

The indulgent horror shows on some of the sites show no respect or courtesy towards the user:

  • Menus can only be viewed as PDF downloads
  • Phone numbers hard to find
  • Click to call buttons not enabled
  • Desktop site shown on mobile device
  • Small fonts
  • Fancy pretentious imagery

Sound familiar?

When we see it so flagrantly disregarded, the importance of the principle becomes self-evident. The harder we work to walk a mile in the shoes of our customer, the more we acknowledge their context of use, the better we can serve them and the better performing our websites will be.

The starting point to this is valuing user-experience thinking, and investing time, emotional energy and deliberation throughout the design process, considering the reason why customers might desire your service and making it easier to say yes.

Gareth Dunlop

 Gareth Dunlop Gareth Dunlop owns and runs Fathom, a user-experience consultancy that helps ambitious organisations get the most from their website and internet marketing by viewing the world from the perspective of their customers. Specialist areas include user-testing, usability and customer journey planning, web accessibility and integrated online marketing. Clients include Fáilte Ireland, Power NI, Telefónica, Ordnance Survey Ireland, and Savile Row. Visit Fathom online.

Usability image via Shutterstock