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Context of Use Analysis

Collecting and analyzing detailed information about the intended users, their tasks, and the technical and environmental constraints. The data for a context of use analysis can be gathered using interviews, workshops, surveys, site visits, artifact analysis, focus groups, observational studies, and contextual inquiry.

The main goals are:

  • Ensure that all factors that relate to use of the system are identified before design work starts.
  • Provide a basis for designing later usability tests

The context of use analysis involves collecting and analyzing detailed information about:

  • The intended users
  • Their tasks
  • The tools that support the users' goals
  • The physical environment in which a product will be used
  • The user's social and organizational millieu
  • The technical environment and associated technical constraints
  • Other contextual factors that will affect the user experience

This information about context of use is an essential input to the problem definition, product goals, requirements, conceptual design, detailed design, and the planning of other usability methods. Information about the context of use of a product are generally collected early in the product life cycle and then refined as additional data are gathered from usability studies.


How To


A good way to collect the information is to arrange a half-day meeting. Invite stakeholders who have knowledge about the intended users and usage. This may include:

  • project manager
  • user representative(s
  • developer(s)
  • training
  • support

The first two are key areas. You will also need a facilitator with experience of the method and a person to record the information provided during the meeting.

To obtain information on the context of use, a detailed checklist will be needed (see below).

Before the meeting:

  • When using a detailed checklist, to avoid prolonging the meeting it is important to fill in advance any items that are not contentious and highlight the issues that need to be discussed
  • Provide all participants with a copy of the checklist

At the meeting

Discuss and fill in each item on the context checklist. Try to obtain consensus where there is uncertainty or disagreement. If information is missing, agree how this can be obtained. Avoid prolonged discussion of minor issues.

After the meeting

Obtain any missing information. If the information is not easily available, arrange a field study to observe users in their work environment.

Circulate to all participants a summary of the conclusions, and the filled in checklist.


This is a simple technique to use when most of the information is already known by the stakeholders.

  • For the simplest systems, the context information can be collected as part of the stakeholder meeting, using a less structured process.
  • If it is impossible to arrange a meeting, the information can be gathered by interviewing the stakeholders or using a questionnaire. This has the disadvantage that there is no opportunity to establish consensus on, and commitment to, the usage characteristics.
  • In more complex situations where the information is not well-understood a field study or contextual inquiry may be required to collect and analyse the information.



Lifecycle: User research
See also: Contextual Inquiry
Sources and contributors: 
Based on the UsabilityNet description by Nigel Bevan and Jurek Kirakowski.
Released: 2009-08
© 2010 Usability Professionals Association