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This handbook is a how-to companion to the main Contextual Design book, Contextual Design: Defining Customer-Centered Systems. Over the years, we at InContext have worked on many projects of many types, with many teams in many different organizations. Contextual Design (CD), our customer-centered design process, has been used in many ways depending on the needs of the project. Contextual Design often has been called a scaffolding for user-centered front-end design—techniques can be used or skipped and different techniques can be added.
Rapid Contextual Design is a guide for practitioners of the most frequently used CD techniques. Like any new process adoption, certain techniques are adopted first and others come later. This handbook focuses on the core Contextual Design techniques that most easily drive customer data into the corporate design process. So, you should be able to use and adapt these techniques to your particular situation.
To help you understand how to use CD techniques on your projects, Rapid Contextual Design contains step-by-step instructions of how to use each technique, real examples of user data from our clients' and our own projects, schedules, and tips for using the process. We also discuss many of the issues that team members have raised over the years. And because some of you are integrating CD with other techniques like personas, Agile or Extreme Programming (XP), and use case generation, we include a discussion of how CD connects to these methods throughout this handbook.
Over the years teams have asked us, "Why can't we use a tool for Contextual Design?" Well, now you can—CDTools™ is InContext's software tool designed specifically to help you organize, analyze, track, and share user data. Because we have designed many other software tools by studying the people using them, we know the advantages and pitfalls of providing tool support for what was previously a paper process. So, in Rapid Contextual Design we highlight where and how to use CDTools within the context of the design process. And of course we designed CDTools with Contextual Design! We hope that these discussions will help you plan tool use into your own project process.
Finally, although Rapid Contextual Design can be used on its own, for a deeper discussion of the CD method and the philosophy of Contextual Design refer to the original book, Contextual Design: Defining Customer-Centered Systems. Throughout this handbook, we reference the appropriate sections of the main Contextual Design book. Because Rapid Contextual Design is a practical guide to the daily practice of Contextual Design, we spend little time on the whys of the process, and instead concentrate on the hows. And if you want to understand all the CD techniques, go back to the main text.
What steps of Contextual Design are covered in Rapid Contextual Design?
Rapid Contextual Design will take you from the start of a CD project all the way through to the finished design, addressing different project types and organizational needs. We cover defining the project scope, deciding on the number and type of interviews, and setting up interviews. We provide tips on conducting the interviews and running the interpretation session afterward. Once the data is gathered and interpreted, we guide you through the affinity building process and consolidating sequence models. Finally, we help you with visioning, storyboarding, and testing your system with paper mockups. Throughout we help you understand how to get a quality result from your variant of the CD process.
Depending on the type of Rapid CD project you choose, you may use several or all of the processes covered in Rapid Contextual Design. Chapter 2 covers planning your project and picking the type of Rapid CD process appropriate for your project.
An overview of the techniques in the full Contextual Design process, along with what we are covering in this handbook, follows. Throughout Rapid Contextual Design we will reference the more extensive discussions of techniques found in our original book on Contextual Design.
Contextual Inquiry. Field interviews are conducted with users in their workplaces while they work, observing and inquiring into the structure of the users' own work practice. This ensures that the team captures the real business practice and daily activities of the people the system is to support, not just the self-reported practice or official policies.
We cover setting up field interviews in Chapter 3, and how to run a field interview in Chapter 4.
Interpretation sessions and work modeling. Team discussions are used to retell the events of the interview, key points (affinity notes) are captured, and models representing the user's work practice are drawn. Five models provide different perspectives on how work is done: the flow model captures communication and coordination and the roles people play, the cultural model captures culture and policy, the sequence model shows the detailed steps performed to accomplish a task (task analysis), the physical model shows the physical environment as it supports the work, and the artifact model shows how artifacts are used and structured in doing the work.
This disciplined, detailed debriefing allows the team to share the findings, build a common understanding of the user, and capture all the data relevant to the project in a form that will characterize the population to be supported and drive the resulting design.
We cover interpretation sessions in Chapter 5. The work models recommended for Rapid CD, primarily the sequence model, are covered in Chapter 6.
Model consolidation and affinity diagram building. The data from individual users is consolidated to show a larger picture of the work of the targeted population. The notes from the interpretation sessions of all users are brought together into an affinity diagram, a hierarchical representation of the issues labeled to reflect user needs. Work models are consolidated, showing the common work patterns and strategies across all users. The sequence model, the key model for Rapid CD, shows the tasks that the system will support. The consolidated sequence model is equivalent to a task analysis or the "as-is" use case in process modeling.
Sequence consolidation is covered in Chapter 7, and affinity diagramming is covered in Chapter 8.
Personas. In addition to the basic Contextual Design techniques, in Chapter 9 we discuss how to use contextual data to build personas, popularized by Alan Cooper. A persona describes typical users of the proposed system as though they were real people. Personas help the team communicate the needs of the users by bringing them to life. Good personas are built from rich contextual data. When a persona is based on field data collected from many users, it's much richer and more complete than a description of any actual real user could be.
Visioning. Together, the team reviews the consolidated data by "walking" the data, sharing the personas if they were created and capturing key issues and hot ideas. This stimulates the team to start thinking broadly. After the "data walk" the team runs a visioning session to invent how the system will streamline and transform the work users do by applying technology. The vision is captured as a hand-drawn sketch on flipchart paper. This vision represents the big picture of what the system could do to address the full work practice. Subsequently, it can be broken down into coherent subsets to be implemented over a series of releases as may be required in a Rapid CD process. Alternatively, in a smaller project the team simply may brainstorm solutions.
We cover the data walk in Chapter 10 and the visioning process in Chapter 11.
Storyboarding. The vision guides the detailed redesign of user work tasks, which is fleshed out in more detail using pictures and text in a series of hand-drawn cells. A storyboard includes manual practices, initial user interface (UI) concepts, business rules, and automation assumptions. Storyboarding is equivalent to future scenarios, high-level use cases representing the "to-be" state of the work process, and becomes the basis for user stories in XP. Storyboarding is covered in Chapter 12.
User Environment Design (UED). A single representation of the system that shows all functions and how they are organized into coherent places in the system to support user intent. The UED is built from the storyboards. This ensures that a large system is coherent and fits the work. It provides a basis for prioritization and rational segmentation of the system. The UED is a customer-centered way of representing the system requirements.
Rapid Contextual Design does not include a discussion of the UED. Companies often have their own standards for recording requirements that will take the place of the UED in a Rapid CD process. So to speed up the process, and because the UED is most essential for large system design, we do not cover the UED—return to the original Contextual Design book for a discussion of this technique.
Paper prototypes and mock-up interviews. User interfaces are designed on paper and tested with the system's actual users, first in rough form and then with more detail. This ensures that the basic system function and structure work for the users, and that the basic UI concept is sound. After several iterations on paper you are ready for final interaction and visual design and then can begin running prototype testing.
We introduce the primary concepts of paper prototyping in Chapter 13, and explain how to interpret the mock-up data in Chapter 14. This process has caught on and is covered in many other publications as well.
What is rapid about Rapid CD?
Time has become a driving force in systems design. Today teams and companies want to include users in their design processes. But how can they do this without adding significant time to the process? Organizations have their existing methodologies and practices—how can user-centered design techniques be included within these processes? Opposition to bringing users into the center of the design process still exists. Surveys and focus groups are deemed to be enough for the voice of the customer. Complaints about increased time and resources for including user data in a real way abound. But the drive for designing products and systems with user data is moving to the mainstream of the development process.
One goal of Rapid Contextual Design is to remove the arguments against getting customer data into a development process. In our experience time is less about overall clock-time and more about how user data fits into the existing habits, processes, job descriptions, and schedules of a company. So "rapid" doesn't mainly mean "Do everything in CD but do it shorter and faster." Rather, it means:
Do I have to do all those steps? What can I skip? When can I skip it? How does CD fit with my existing design process? Can't I use CD techniques to get customer data and then use the steps I'm accustomed to using? I have only two people on the team, can I still do it? What can I do in a few weeks?
User-centered design will be seen as "rapid" if it can fit within the existing structures, expectations, and development processes of the organizations that deliver systems and products. This still means change, but like any organizational change process, the change comes in steps. Chapter 16 discusses organizational adoption issues.
Any requirements gathering and design process takes time. For Contextual Design, the real speed (clock-time) of the process depends on the:
Number of customer visits that you choose to perform Number of people who can work simultaneously on the project, or the helpers you can get at key points Dedication of the people assigned to the project, and whether they can work full-time Size of the problem, the more complex the business process, the more complex the product (therefore the longer it will take to define or redesign) Number of stakeholders that have to be satisfied, coordinated with, and communicated to (the more buy-in you need the longer it will take)
Excerpted from RAPID CONTEXTUAL DESIGN by Karen Holtzblatt Jessamyn Burns Wendell Shelley Wood Copyright © 2005 by Elsevier Inc.. Excerpted by permission of MORGAN KAUFMANN PUBLISHERS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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