Cognition, expectations, and the context of usability

The way customers use our products reflects their experience and expectations. So how can we gain insight into their expectations to keep them engaged and satisfied with our product or service?

Text by Kirk St.Amant


Image: © BlackSalmon/

No item is inherently usable. Rather, the context in which we use an object determines what we expect to do with it. These expectations are not innate, but reflect cognitive processes connected to our prior experiences in a location. By understanding these relationships, technical communicators can create material that meets an audience’s usability expectations for a setting. Developing such knowledge involves answering central questions about the context in which items are used.

Where am I?

When we enter a location, our minds try to determine where we are. If it is an unknown place, we try to determine “What kind of place is this?” – for our location governs what we expect to do in that space. If it is a known place, we review the setting to confirm we are in the correct location and confirm what we expect to do in this space. Such identification of place is the first step to ...