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Context of use

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What is it?

Context of use (CoU) analysis - also called usability context analysis or simply analysis of context - is the name for a particular class of data capture technique. CoU analysis is essentially a facilitated meeting (using a specific form of questionnaire) intended to seek answers to certain key "probe" questions. As its name suggests, the focus of the technique is the situational context in which a product, system or service is or will be used.


Accordingly, the defining characteristics of a CoU analysis are the sets of "probe" questions used in the questionnaire, which typically express the following:

  • Who will use the software (i.e. users)?
  • What will they do with the software (i.e. tasks)?
  • Where will they use the software (i.e. environment)?

What's it for?

Generally speaking, the purpose of CoU analysis is to gather answers to the probe questions given above. More specifically, it is intended to identify and document contextual factors - users, tasks and environment - that affect the usability of a product, system or service, and to ensure that those factors are represented when a given system is evaluated.

When to use?

There are two different ways to use CoU analysis. Either (a) as an aid to requirements capture, or (b) as an aid to usability evaluation. In the first instance, CoU is carried out during the early Discovery phase of the project, often used iteratively to converge on a working consensus. Later, when a prototype is available for evaluation, CoU can be used as a planning aid for selecting what needs to be evaluated, and what the most meaningful circumstances might be under which such evaluation can take place.

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