Definition: Anything that carries or transfers information.
Also referenced as: Channels (noun)
We live our lives across channels.
It’s common to see someone using a smartphone while sitting in front of a computer screen, or reading a magazine while watching TV.
As users, our context is the situation we’re in, including where we are, what we’re trying to do, how we’re feeling, and anything else that shapes our experience. Our context is always unique to us and can’t be relied upon to hold steady.
In this context, I’m using several different channels: Twitter, a smartphone, and TV.
For example, a website may serve someone browsing on a phone from their couch, on a tablet at a coffee shop, or on a desktop computer in a cubicle.
What channels do your users prefer? What context are they likely in when encountering what you’re making? How are they feeling? Are they in a hurry? Are they on slow Wi-Fi? Are they there for entertainment or to accomplish a task?
Considering these small details will make a huge difference for you and your users.
These concepts don’t necessarily live under an established hierarchy or sequence. For example, in the diagram above, I’ve outlined the various aspects of running a pizza parlor as the owner (me!) might think about them.
The power of a matrix diagram is that you can make the boxes collect whatever you want. Each box becomes a task to fulfill or a question to answer, whether you’re alone or in a group.
After making a simple matrix of users, contexts, players, and channels, you’ll have a guide to understanding the mess. By admitting your hopes and fears, you’re uncovering the limits you’re working within.
For example, if you built a public park, you might make a path to walk on, a picnic area, a playground, some bathrooms, and a soccer field. These areas were made with tasks in mind.
If parkgoers wear down a path through your fresh laid grass, you as the parkitect (ha!) could see it as an annoyance. Or you could see it as a space between places and pave over it so people can get where they want to go without walking through the mud.
A space is an open, free, or unoccupied area.
No matter what you’re making, your users will find spaces between places. They bring their own context and channels with them, and they show you where you should go next. Find areas in flux and shine a light on them.
Joan is the social media coordinator for an airline that recently merged with another airline. Overnight, her team became responsible for twice as much work as before. She’s also now responsible for managing twice as many people.
As the details of the merger iron out, duplicative channels have to be dealt with. For example, they now have two Twitter accounts and two help directories on two different websites. To tie everything together, Joan: