The power of context mapping

Jules Prick

Reading time
2 min read

Jun 17, 2021

Context Mapping is a generative technique, developed at the faculty of Industrial design engiuneering at Delft university of technology, or as they describe it:

“Context mapping is a procedure for conducting contextual research with users, where tacit knowledge is gained about the context of use of products. It aims to inform and inspire design teams, where users and stakeholders actively participate in the design process to ensure a good fit between the design and the use of a product.”

As we see it, Context mapping is a technique to gain deep insights in the underlying motivations of consumers in a certain product or service category. Next to steering product design it provides a great platform for brand strategy & marketing communication.

The beginning of context mapping

When you take a look at the development process (the squiggly line), the beginning of the process is fuzzy and goes into every direction. You simply don’t know yet, what the outcome will be. The further you are in the development process, the product and service have been defined for the biggest part and only get a little bit refined over time.

In the early days of research, insights from customers on new products and services were gathered after launch. They gave you insight into the experience of use, but any changes that needed to be made were very costly at this stage. Slowly research was moving up in the chain, where consumer panels gave input on concepts before launch. Nowadays, context mapping is focused on the very early stages of the design process: the exploratory phase. It is trying to identify (unmet) needs, that are suitable for innovation.

The fuzzy front end of the design process

Different tools

There are several tools used in Context mapping. Every different product category uses tailor-made techniques and requires different stimulative materials for the participants. There are different tools to be used, all having their own unique pros and cons; cultural probes, collages, creation of mini product models, and hand-out photo cameras. There is one rudimentary rule: all stimulative material has to be ambiguous in all possible ways. Participants are allowed to free flow with whatever they come up with as this is the only way of discovering our true motivations. This will help you to understand what is important for them, without making your own assumptions.

The power of context mapping

Context mapping is especially useful in the exploration phase of a project. It gives you deep insights in the context of your category and the underlying needs of your customers. It provides you with a clear platform to base your future vision upon. A vision necessary and invaluable to steer both brand and product development. And because you involve your customers from the beginning, your innovative ideas will better match a user need, decreasing the chance of failure.

Context mapping in action

Context mapping is a really useful technique and we use it in a lot of our projects. Head over to the projects page to have a look at our case studies to find out more, or contact us for more information.

Want to know more about context mapping?

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