From WikID

What Is Contextmapping?

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Contextmapping is a user-centred design technique that involves the user as ‘expert of his or her experience’. By providing the user with design tools and approaches, he or she can express a particular experience.

In the past decades, the role of researcher within design has grown considerably. Previously designers could focus on the product with its additional inner technology, whilst these days design often begins with a thorough understanding of the user and the usability context such as the what, where, how, when, with whom etc, which surround the interaction between user and product.

The term context is defined as the context in which the product is used. All the factors that influence the experience of product use, such as: social, cultural, physical aspects as well as goals, needs, emotions and practical matters.

The term contextmap indicates that the acquired information should work as a guiding map for the design team. It helps the designers find their way, structure their insights, recognise dangers and opportunities. The contextmap is meant to be regarded as an inspiration, not a validation.

When Can You Use Contextmapping?

A Contextmapping study should help designers to understand the user’s perspective and to translate the user’s experience into a desirable design solution.

To design desired (product) solutions, designers create a vision for future use, which pays special attention to the deeper layers of meaning. These layers are expected to be valid in the long term and can be attained by calling up memories from the past.

How Can You Use Contextmapping?


Step 1: Preparing

  • Determine what you want to learn
  • Determine the topic of study
  • Define the scope around the focus that is to be explored
  • Capture your preconceptions in a Mind Map
  • Start selecting participants in time
  • Make a planning
  • Conduct preliminary research (first interviews, study background literature)
  • Design expressive tools such as workbooks or probes.

Step 2: Sensitising


Some time before the session, users receive a sensitising package, which helps them to observe their own lives and reflect on their experiences of the study topic. It can consist of various elements derived from cultural probe packages, such as an exercise book, postcard assignments, fill-in maps and cameras. Here are some tips:

  • Make it personal but well cared for
  • Make it inviting and playful
  • Always conduct pilot tests before creating your materials
  • Invite the user to extend rather than answer
  • Meet your participants in person.

The sensitising process takes about a week. The user is encouraged to spread the assignment throughout the week, which gives him or her the opportunity to generate memories and associations and sharpen their sensitivity to the topic.


Step 3: Meeting

Users create expressions of their experience, which are presented to - and discussed with their peers

After the sensitising step, the researcher and user meet. This can be in a group session with typically up to six users, or an interview at the user’s home or work location, whereby one of the researchers facilitates the process and the other makes notes and observes. In the session a number of exercises are done to gradually deepen the insight into the topic. Here are some tips:

  • Record it on video if possible
  • Write down your impressions immediately afterwards


  • Instruction: ‘you are the expert of your experience’, ‘anything goes’, ‘respect each others’ stories’
  • Ask questions like ‘how do you feel about it?’, ‘what does it mean to you?’


  • Use diverse images and words (nature, people, interactions) 80-90 words/ pictures often work well
  • Select ambiguous pictures
  • Balance between positive and negative emotions
  • Invite
  • Don’t make it too beautiful.

Step 4: Analysing

Analysing; Selecting and interpreting chunks of data, often a group activity

Sessions and workbooks provide large amounts of data, which must be interpreted to find patterns and possible directions. The data contain photographs and workbooks that participants have made, expressive artefacts from the session and often a video recording and full-text transcript from the session. Quotes are selected from the transcript, interpreted and organised. On the basis of the first impression, a qualitative analysis is performed.

Researchers sift through the material, make selections and interpretations and try to find patterns of similarities and differences. The researcher typically creates a rich visual environment of interpretations and categories which he or she then analyses. Here are some tips:

  • Immerse yourself in the data
  • Clarify your interpretations
  • Give it some time
  • Do it together (triangulate)
  • Be surprised
  • Find patterns.

Step 5: Communicating

Example of an infographic; to communicate insights

In practice, designers often do not meet the users. Therefore the researchers have to translate the ‘user experience’ to the designer and convey the user’s perspective, needs and values. Here are some tips:

  • Do a workshop
  • Sensitise the designers
  • Leave room for users’ own interpretations
  • Make it personal
  • Show that your contact was real
  • Show real people
  • Combine raw data with interpretations
  • Combine results with other (market) research results.

Step 6: Conceptualising and beyond

‘Piece of Family’ (graduation project)

Communications often serve to improve idea generation, concept development and further product development. Users are often highly motivated to look at the results again and can build on the knowledge they generated many weeks after the original study. In the meantime they often have become aware of the new insights into their experience which they enjoy sharing.

Here are some tips:

  • Keep user and experience in mind
  • Tell stories
  • Make storyboards
  • Do role-playing.

References and Further Reading


Personal tools
Aspects & Domains