Everytime that I sit down to design or review a product or service presentation, I often ask what what do we know about our users? I don’t mean their profiles, but rather what bits of knowledge or behaviour do we know about them? I force myself and the people around me to know as much as possible about their users and most importantly about the context that surrounds them and where the actions will take place or the products and services will be used. Still today I struggle how such simple questions raise so many doubts.

I have from my experience, that the majority of the problems come not from a misfit user profile, but rather from some unexpected context problem that wasn’t considered during the design phase of that project. Knowing what our customers think is important, but the sweet spot between a good experience and a great experience is to have the knowledge to his or hers outskirts: where might the user bem, what are his expectations, what actions is he trying to accomplish? what else is going on around him? What distractions, noises and messages are competing for his attention?

Last Christmas, while returning from Lisbon, I came across a good example of good service design, subtle, but a very well thought use case. Once you’ve completed your check-in and baggage drop off process, it’s time to head into the international area of the airport, once there, we’re faced with the typical security processes, liquids out, laptop and electronics, etc. but even after so many flights, some times it does happen that you missed something within your hand luggage, which is not permit to carry on the flight! Solution? Well until now I’ve seen many airports offering their passengers to… dump the unauthorised items in the trash! May they be liquids or any other form of objects, it’s a strange process, but what options are there when all the check-in was completed and your big luggages somewhere already inside the airport or plane?

Aeroporto de Lisboa - Partidas

Seems that someone in Lisbon, thought a bit about it and they now have at the security area, vending machines that allow passengers to buy padded envelops and boxes allowing them to post the items to themselves via a mail dropbox post. Clever? Maybe, but in many circumstances, more than convenience it allows you to save that awful lot of money in a item that you just can’t carry into the plane.
I found this not just a great product placement idea, I believe that it was only possible because someone looked at all those passengers and realised the difficulties and decided to improve the experience of the airport service.

With all the sensors and information we can access today from our users, what’s stopping us to deliver ever more smart and aware products and services? How are we using all the information we have about them?

A second great example of context awareness in this case to help push commercially a new product, is to think carefully about how not just the typical product placement activities, but go beyond them and understand where the new product might make sense to be and how to better communicate the added value it carries:

I could write lines and lines of great example, but I close this post with some of the key pointers to help uncover users context information. A starting point about using technology and sensors is Robert Scoble and Shel Israel “Age of Context” book, describing a not so far future where Data & Sensors will help deliver a highly anticipatory and predictively intelligent world in terms of products and services.

Context will not only affect every product and service, its already helping deliver contextual aware products and services, finally putting an end to all the product and service context agnostic development.