Across the many interesting and insightful presentations given at the 2012 IA Summit in New Orleans, a particular concept continually arose – context.
What is Context?
Context encompasses the situation-altering details surrounding an event, or to paraphrase Emily Wengert of HUGE in Brooklyn: At the coffee shop, cream and sugar are found together, while in the dictionary and at the grocery store, they are not – the relationship between the two differs based on the context of the situation.
Approaching user engagements from the perspective of context will generate better insights into the actual needs of the user (as related to different user situations), and can be crucial to multi-platform engagement success.
Forgetting Context Leads to Embarrassing Engagements
Some deficits in contextual thinking are obvious in hindsight:
- Tweeting links not suited for mobile devices (data shows most Twitter users do so through smartphones)
- Having small (font-wise) or lengthy text on outdoor billboards (difficult to read from a distance or at 70mph)
- Placing QR codes at the bottom of a transit billboard (instead of eye level)
Designing based on user context will lend to the creation of content and information architecture that is adaptable to meet user needs and expectations.
Likewise, predicting user expectations will result in a higher likelihood of delighted and engaged users (aka. loyal customers).
Good User Engagement Requires Proper Planning
Often, designing with the perspective of user content requires a planning process that the same or equal to implementation in terms of complexity and phase length.
These efforts will likely include, but may not be limited to: consumer research, platform selection/testing, and content planning. Combined, these aspects craft the all-important user experience.
Often times, the central tenants of successful planning focus of three more general, yet mutually integral, components:
Every media format is to a certain degree limited to a set of straightforward capabilities. For print, these aspects include color versus black-and-white, quarter-page versus full-page, etc. For digital, similar ad size specs are employed; however, in the case of more robust intranet or external website creation, considerations such as content management system come into play. In all cases, structural constraints will be to a certain degree influenced by overarching resource considerations, rather it be budget or the manpower for long-term upkeep and maintenance.
No matter the communication goal, a specific type and format will be required for the successful transfer of ideas and calls-to-action. First and foremost, planning must assess the all-important “What do we need to say?” and “Who do we need to say it to?” considerations. Once these aspects are clearly defined and articulated, limitations and capabilities must be weighed to determine ultimate content type (text, image, video, audio) and presentation. To revisit the idea of outdoor (which can be very similar to a mobile-based headline), vivid conciseness will be of absolute importance. In regard to a robust intranet or website, effective content must usually be complex and approachable, while at the same time as updateable as possible.
Interface Design Capabilities
Ultimately, structural capabilities and content requirements must culminate into the most effective interface design possible. The way in which information is structured and presented for by-user absorption and action will often dictate ultimate failure or success. Successful user interfaces have the ability to effectively articulate messages “here and now”, while remaining inherently responsive to changing requirements, whether dictated by evolving communication goals, user behaviors, or other resource/asset considerations.
As a result of these three vital, yet inherently unique, components, proper planning is multi-departmental by nature. The typical team may include strategy, media, programming, and design experts, as well as client service liaisons and analytics experts. This “all hands on deck” approach may represent a substantial front-end investment for effective project kick-off and implementation; however, the ultimate goal and effect of successful information architecture is undeniable – short-term impact and long-term agility.
In the end, any communications plan should focus on the ever-important considerations of “when, why, where, and how”; however, due attention to the multi-faceted “context” (the connective tissue of “when, why, where, and how”) should always be an utmost priority.