Who developed Contextual Design?

developed Contextual Design

The book describes the latest practices in Contextual Design, evolved to help teams design for the way technology now fits into peoples’ lives. It shows how the steps of the current process create a continual immersion in the world of the user for the purpose of innovative product design.

In the early 1980s, Hugh Beyer and Karen Holtzblatt were developing computer hardware at Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). They realized that their design team needed a practical way to gather and use user data to support the development of new products. Drawing upon anthropology, psychology and design, they developed Contextual Design as a comprehensive front-end design process based on in-depth field research. The process includes Contextual Inquiry, the widespread industry-standard field data gathering technique, and a series of techniques to analyze and present user data, drive ideation from that data and develop specific product solutions.

Its success has been so great that Versions Contextual Design is used in a wide variety of industries and taught in universities throughout the world. In 2013 we redesigned the process to reflect how technology has changed peoples’ lives and to better address the way they work now. The redesign added a number of key changes, including building personas from the detailed field data to focus the team on the characters they will vision about in the next step, to help stakeholders segment their market according to practice instead of typical demographics, to clarify branding and prioritization, and to bring users and their needs to life for developers.

Who developed Contextual Design?

Another change was to add the ability to do quantitative research in addition to qualitative, allowing the design team to understand the scale of the problem in terms of potential customers and the amount of money they might be willing to pay for a solution. It also added a series of concepts that encapsulate the four ways that technology enhances our lives: accomplishment, connection, identity and sensation. These new models enable the team to more easily recognize these factors in the consolidated user data and include them in their product design.

Finally, the redesigned process calls for the team to build and test paper prototypes of its product solution before Agile development begins. This enables the team to quickly and cheaply validate that its solution is truly what the user needs, and that it can solve their real problems.

Getting the right business functions involved in the process is critical to getting good customer feedback, but we have found that this can be a challenge. Our latest version of the process incorporates a new team activity, the Customer Immersion Workshop, to provide a structured way for different parts of the company to come together in one place and participate equally as they immerse themselves in customer data and work out product direction through structured activities. Ultimately, this gives the whole team a common language around customer and product assumptions so that they can act independently in their job roles guided by the same understanding.

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