Web Interactivity and Engagement

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Context Aware Sites pt. 2

Previously I had discussed the concept of context aware websites. As the topic is very broad, has nearly endless possibilities to expand and continues to interest me, I decided to take a second look at it.

From the poking around I have done, it seems the majority of the concepts stem from the post ‘Context-Aware Web Design Can Take Your Business to the Next Level’ by Matt Carver, as mentioned in the previous post. Carver explained the concept of context awareness in everything from a cafe setting to how an e-commerce app could utilize this type of interactivity.

Expanding on Carver’s concepts – Jared Spool wrote an article ‘Context-Aware Design: A New Frontier’ in which he expands upon the potential of context aware websites by providing further examples such as a fan’s experience at an NFL game to a train ride in a foreign city. While these examples are fascinating, my biggest take aways from this article were Spool’s discussions regarding innovation and the design process in relation to context aware web design. Spool explains that individually, the tools are all already available, “however, it’s their combination that makes them innovative.”

Another article, ‘The Future of Context Aware Design’ explores yet more possibilities. The author, Dave Larkan explains how context aware design can be applied to various kinds of users and their goals in visiting a university web site. Realizing that a first time visitor may be gathering information to potentially visit, apply, or attend a school, versus a daily visitor who is a student that repeatedly goes to the same pages, following the same paths – these users have very different agendas for visiting the university’s page, and thus could benefit from the personalization that context aware design could provide.

Spool also touches on the notion that designing for context hasn’t been a part of the process before. He states “Existing design processes don’t work for [context-aware design]. What would be a static wireframe can’t handle the dynamic updating of the displays. Knowing how the visual design needs to adapt to the changing needs of the user is not something we’ve thought about before.”

I think the is absolutely right, and if context-aware design is going to become the norm, we as designers will need to be aware of the vast possibilities it can create. Web design is often about being in the forefront of new or emerging technologies and trends, and I believe that designers currently exploring where context-aware design can take websites and applications and the implications it can have on the way users interact with a site and their physical environment will be ahead of the curve.