Prompted by the writing of Ethan Marcotte and Mark Boulton’s A Richer Canvas, Jeremy Keith offered some clarification on context. In it he discusses known unknowns, namely viewport size, bandwidth, and context. Toward the end he discusses the mythical mobile context:

Bizarrely, this is the very known unknown that I see addressed as though it were solved. “Someone visits your site with a mobile device therefore they are in a rush, walking down the street, hurriedly trying to find your phone number!”


The data does not support this. All those people with mobile devices sitting on a train or sitting in a cafe or lounging on the sofa at home; they are all in a very different context to the imaginary persona of the mobile user rushing hither and thither.

We have once again created a consensual hallucination. Just as we generated a mythical desktop user with the perfect viewport size, a fast connection and an infinite supply of attention, we have now generated a mythical mobile user who has a single goal and no attention span.”

This made me think about a previous discussion I’ve had at work where the iPad was described as a sofa device. That never made sense to me because of this very context issue. An iPad is a sofa device when I’m at home on my sofa. It’s a work device when it’s with me in a meeting viewing that wireframe PDF we’re discussing. Or it’s a work device when a musician is recording that new album on it. The same device, different context. As Jeremy says, context is very hard to figure out, but it’s too easy to create a single context for something that doesn’t have only one and can change between contexts multiple times as someone goes about their day.

Lots of exciting stuff to think about.