Context of Use

What is Context of Use?

Designing for usability involves establishing user requirements for a new system or product, developing design solutions, prototyping the system and the user interface, and testing it with representative users. However, before any usability design or evaluation activity can begin, it is necessary to understand the Context of use for the product, i.e. the goals of the user community, and the main user, task and environmental characteristics of the situation in which it will be operated.

Source: Macleod (1994). Usability in Context: Improving Quality of Use. In Proceedings of the International Ergonomics Association 4th International Symposium on Human Factors in Organizational Design and Management, (Stockholm, Sweden, May 29 – June 1 1994). Amsterdam, Elsevier.

Breaking down Context of Use

When usability is measured, it is important that the conditions for a test of usability are representative of important aspects of the overall context of use. Unless evaluation of usability can take place in conditions of actual use, it will be necessary to decide which attributes of the actual or intended context of use are to be represented in the context used for evaluation. When specifying or evaluating usability it is therefore important that the context selected is representative of the important aspects of the actual or intended context of use. Particular attention should be given to those attributes which are judged to have a significant impact on the quality of use of the overall system.

Using a breakdown of the context such as the example given in Table 1 (based on Maissel et al, 1991), information needs to be collected under each of the headings on the context in which the equipment is actually used (or is intended to be used).

Users Tasks Equipment Environment
Personal details Task breakdown Basic description Organizational Environment
User types Task name Product identification Structure
Audience and secondary users Task goal Product description Hours of work
Skills & knowledge Task frequency Main application areas Group working
Product experience Task duration Major functions Job function
System knowledge Frequency of events Specification Work practices
Task experience Task flexibility Hardware Assistance
Organisational experience Physical and mental demands Software Interruptions
Training Task dependencies Materials Management structure
Keyboard & input skills Task output Other Items Communications structure
Qualifications Risk resulting from error Remuneration
Linguistic ability Attitudes & culture
General knowledge Policy on use of computers
Personal attributes Organisational aims
Age Industrial relations
Gender Job design
Physical capabilities Job flexibility
Physical limitations and disabilities Performance monitoring
Intellectual ability Performance feedback
Attitude Pacing
Motivation Autonomy
Technical environment
Reference materials
Physical environment
Workplace conditions
Atmospheric conditions
Auditory environment
Thermal environment
Visual environment
Environmental instability
Workplace design
Space and furniture
User posture
Workplace safety
Health hazards
Protective clothing & equipment
Source: Bevan, N. and Macleod, M. 1994. Usability measurement in context, Behavior and Information Technology, 13, 132-145.