Contextual Moments

Contextual Moments

With the proliferation of multiple devices and screen sizes, designing interfaces has become tricky to say the least. Gone are the days of simply dealing with multiple web browsers and versions. One of the greatest advances on this front is the concept of responsive design. Responsive leverages modern HTML and CSS standards to allow a web site to reconfigure the layout and its elements (like the navigation) to be optimized for the screen size it is being viewed on. Because of this, it is one of the most popular design trends right now.


In my opinion there is a critical aspect missing to all this. It’s what I like to refer to as “Contextual Moments”. What I mean by this is not only understanding device, but the context in which it is being used. For example, an important contextual moment might be the emergency room of a hospital. Of course if you look around, you are going to see people on smartphones and maybe a couple of tablets. You are unlikely to see a laptop or a big desktop computer in that context. What’s important is what people are doing. For example in the emergency room it is likely people are doing one of two things – reporting status to friends and family about the condition of the person that is on the other side of that door or doing research on something a doctor or nurse told them they didn’t understand.


Scenarios like this not only help you understand screen size, but the context in which it’s being used. Primary and contextual research will help you discover what these moments are and what the most common devices are. So how do you use this information?

As you may know by now, I’m a big fan of information maps. In the representative example below, I considered features, functions and content to be mapped across two indexes. One is devices (let’s say that’s the vertical axis) and the other is a lifecycle (we’ll use the horizontal axis for that). The intersections make up the contextual moments where specific features and content are the most meaningful, useful, and relevant. This process was used in determining the digital strategy roadmap for an entire hospital network.


Although this is a new approach for me and it could use some pressure testing on further projects, I believe this is a great way to validate how you determine the relevance of features and content in people’s lives. Stay tuned for more updates in the future.