Sweet Mobile! Now What? Part 4 — User Context

Now that we know some things about our users, both student-age mobile device users in general and UW students specifically, and we’ve gone over how to learn some other things about our audience, such as assumptions and user needs, we are ready to tackle some major design considerations of working with mobile platforms.

The elephant in the room is the question of the users’ context.

Mobile design considerations: Context!

Context-related thinking has become a big deal in mobile site and app design: with a desktop computer or other device, the context is more likely to be limited to an office, coffee shop, or other stationary location, but with a mobile device, your users could be literally anywhere, doing anything.

We can all brainstorm some likely contexts that we have seen people using their mobile devices, or where we ourselves have used them — on the bus, waiting in line, walking down the street, at a restaurant or bar, in the elevator.

"You got your cellphone, I got mine" by Ed Yourdon. An example of Luke W.'s look up/find task context, perhaps?

In all of these contexts, the user is multitasking — as LukeW puts it, they are devoting one thumb and one eye (PDF; see p. 46) to the device task. Users are chatting with friends, trying to navigate a crowded sidewalk, find a bus stop, place a coffee order, AND accomplish a task on the phone.

Smashing Magazine defines the most likely types of mobile device use as:

  • Microtasking: Using the phone for short bursts of activity.
  • Local: Finding out what’s around the user.
  • Bored: Using the phone for distraction/entertainment.

The model described by Luke W. at An Event Apart Seattle 2011 (March 30, 2011) uses four categories:

  • Look up/find: Get an answer now; usually related to location.
  • Explore/play: When the user is bored
  • Check in/status: Repeat usage or microtasking
  • Edit/create: Urgent changes, need to be done right now

Our audience and their contexts

Iced tea at Georgia's, version 2 by Ed Yourdon. Which category might this type of mobile phone use fall into?

Here are some examples of tasks that our audience is likely to want to complete on a mobile device, according to Luke W’s model:

Look up/find: find my classroom; find out if campus is closed (for example, on snow days); view my class schedule; get my textbook list for the quarter.

Explore/play: get readings for class; find campus events for today; look for classes to take next quarter that fulfill my major requirements; read campus news.

Check in/status: check my grades; find my professor’s phone number; check my tuition balance.

Edit/create: email my project group; post in my class discussion board.

Do you agree with Smashing’s or Luke W’s categories? What are some other student mobile tasks that might fall into these categories, or whatever other model you prefer? Let us know in the comments.

Next time

Stay tuned for our next post about various other design considerations to keep in mind when addressing mobile sites.