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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
      Discretion
      Technical environment
      Configuration
      Hardware
      Software
      Reference materials
      Physical environment
      Workplace conditions
      Atmospheric conditions
      Auditory environment
      Thermal environment
      Visual environment
      Environmental instability
      Workplace design
      Space and furniture
      User posture
      Location
      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.