Chapter 22: Models and Making uses the methods explored in the previous chapters to outline several practical design models. It introduces methods including Applied Ethnography, Tacit Satisficing, and Bubble Diagrams. Hinton shares his experience in design through these methods, and he stresses a careful focus on practicality throughout the chapter.

A Fresh Look at Our MethodsEdit

This section sets up the study of new contexts using the tools outlined in the previous chapters. It places emphasis on careful understanding and intelligent observation to break a system into its elements. Hinton makes the claim that “...[M]ost of our tools and processes are suitable for figuring out context anyway, even if we haven't been thinking of it that way until now” [1]. Strategies like Digital Interaction in Chapter 13: Digital Interaction and Information as Architecture in Chapter 15: Information as Architecture have been suitable methods for understanding the context related to a particular system. The coming sections are set up to explain this claim, as the focus shifts from understanding models to applying them.

Observing ContextEdit

The author begins by stating that the best possible strategy for understanding context is for people to immerse themselves in the system at hand. He borrows Charlie Parker's quote that "If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn" in reference to treating the jazz idiom as a method of improving performance. Here, the quote is used more broadly, stating that any system is expansive enough that full immersion is required for absolute understanding. This is known as applied ethnography, or long-term immersion.

However, this is generally impossible on the time-scales allotted for design practices, and so more efficient methods must be used. A model called Contextual Design is a method of observing individuals involved in the system and deriving a series of their viewpoints, which can then be combined into a pseudo complete image of the system. While not as rich as the applied ethnographic approach, these points can provide suitable detail for understanding a particular context.

It is impossible to design a relevant user experience without some form of ethnographic approach, even if only from a single viewpoint. Hinton states that he could not design for a nonprofit organization without comprehending their personal experiences and work process. He argues that context should be understood from a personal perspective, which can be most thoroughly achieved through immersion. A single user can vary wildly in perspectives from one moment to the next, as detailed in an example with cancer patients in a community forum.

The author also lauds language as a valuable tool for interpreting these viewpoints, and encourages careful attention to the words used by those already immersed in the system under study. Hinton writes that "...[T]he language is the spine that enables the entire organism to function as a coherent whole" [2]. Communication is one of the most fundamental elements of context, and understanding the language and labels associated with a context (as structured in Chapter 20: The Materials of Semantic Function) will set the stage for more detailed understanding.

Perspectives and JourneysEdit

This section outlines the importance of realizing that individual agents do not enter into a system from a vacuum. Hinton provides an example of his Situation-Need-Task model, organizing tasks as branches connected to individual needs, which are then further connected to situations. He introduces many visuals to explain this model, but all of them keep the hierarchy of situation, then need, then task. This model is valuable in finding the tasks where different situations overlap.The section also gives an example of two people searching for a faucet fixing guide, while one is actually renovating their entire sink. Two different situations meet only to search for images and guides for fixing faucets, but behave in different ways depending on their situation and needs.

Tailoring a system for a variety of possible perspectives is one of the great challenges of design, and has to account for individual variance. The collage approach to understanding the user experience is shown to be useful in this context, as a simple normalized linear model of user interactions does not capture the myriad backgrounds from which a user might arrive. Hinton states that additional perspectives must always be considered when regarding design practices. Designs are commonly displayed as linear stories of connected nodes, but a realistic model should consider perspectives as a collage model, with many nodes shared between perspectives but a few that will be unique to certain views. The more contextual perspectives that can be analyzed, the more complete the collage will be in isolating needs for certain nodes.

The section ends with a reversed approach, identifying the backgrounds of digital agents as they might server a user from different operational perspectives. The same principles used in the human study apply to this situation and form an effective groundwork for user experience studies. Digital agents have their own situations, and display needs in order to perform their services to humans. These needs generate their own tasks, and the Situation-Need-Task model can be applied in exactly the same way.

Structures for Tacit SatisficingEdit

Hinton lists and compares physical and digital structures for individual-driven exploration. These are structures that do not necessarily force a context so much as they encourage common elements for each user's unique personal perspective and needs. A Montressori school is inspected for its seemingly chaotic floorplan that reveals a comfortable context for students to learn at their own pace. Hinton explains the self-driven design model as “Finding the right hubs and stations for people to satisfice through, calibrate within, and narrate to themselves means that we don't have to plan out every possible use case...” [3]. Careful element choice can create journeys organically without explicit planning from the designers. This view seems to contrast with the idea of multi-perspective consideration, but rather serves to fill out the space between perspectives that may not have been considered. Users will always attempt to find these individual paths as a result of personal preference and exploration, so planning for such derivations helps to consolidate the user experience that results from a system.

The section shows Google as another example of multi-perspective, minimum guidance design strategy. The commonly used strategy is the Sales Funnel approach, where users start out with few details and end at a specific product. This forms a fairly linear model propelled by the user's knowledge of a product. Google adopted a different model that treats their search page as a "home base" for multiple researching operations, displaying different products and information depending on the user's needs at that time. There are no defined end-points, merely organic nodes of information distribution that value the user's choices and preferences. This model improves the user's decision-making by allowing them to find a product through their own path, propelled by the user's research and understanding and allowing for flexibility in path. Context is never forced upon the user, but tools are provided for their exploration at their own pace.

Blueprints, Floorplans, Bubbles and BlobsEdit

The chapter ends with a look at design strategies for free-form development in an increasingly complex environment. Hinton discards rigid design deliverables in favor of intelligent design choices and thorough considerations. The individual examples he provides reinforce how traditional architectural elements can be mixed to form a coherent system that does not force design perspectives or rigidity into a fluid system. Shape examples serve to highlight systematic overlaps and content organization between nodes. The unifying idea is that design must account for the complete system and all of its connected elements, and not just an individual node.

One such shape example is the Bubble Diagram, which displays each element in a bubble with no rigid connections. Rigidity is avoided for this level of consideration as it functions only as a preliminary view with freely moving connections. Hinton mentions architects as using this model before moving on to drafting programs with more permanent connections. He used the example: "A brick says, 'I'm a brick; put me in a wall.' But a smooth, circular river stone says, 'I'm a circle - I could be anything'" [4]. The bubbles are free of constraining shapes and candidates for many considerations and connections. The author also expands this model into his own Function Model, which applies more design consideration to the bubble idea but still avoiding rigidity.

Following this level of planning is the Floor-plan, which essentially applies an architecture to the bubbles that have been generated. Models resemble the structures explained in Chapter 15: Information as Architecture. Diagrams are generated that represent user interactions with elements on a physical level, but still abstains from applying rigidity to connections. The model discards bubbles in favor of boxes to collect common elements in a structure. These floor-plans can be expanded into Blueprints, which function similarly but with more focus on arrangement and hierarchy.

These structures are useful as early considerations in a design, but require much more detail to form into a working product. As the initial quote states, these diagrams are not methodologies so much as they are visualizations of a problem space. It is the natural off-shoot of the strategies in Chapter 16: Mapping and Placemaking. Having a complete map of what is necessary serves as a supplement to a full design overview, but provides valuable information early on in a design that can shape the product.


This chapter serves as the effective capstone of the book, combining the methods and theories studied in the previous chapters into a few working models of context-aware design. Structural theories such as the ontology analysis in Chapter 20: The Materials of Semantic Function are taken and adjusted for realistic conditions, such as the self-developing taxonomies used in the tacit satisficing model. This same model is subject to the conclusions of Chapter 6:The Elements of Environment and the environmental impact on behavior, and the system as a whole is governed by the cognitive awareness mentioned in Chapter 7: What Humans Make. The methods outlined in this chapter combine these considerations in a handful of environmentally-complete strategies for approaching a design problem.

These methods can be applied to a writing problem by considering the elements as a whole system with discrete parts that should interact organically. It is even possible to apply all of these techniques in an individual design. The mapping techniques adopted in the Blueprints, Floorplans, Bubbles and Blobs section can lay out a foundation for the discrete parts and how they will be approached by potential users. The information gained from the Perspectives and Journeys section can assist in shaping these maps for a variety of viewpoints. Applying an approach from the Observing Context section can fill out the details related to each element and shed light into the Structures for Tacit Satisficing that will guide a user's experience. While it might be impractical on a realistic time table to consider all of these strategies at once, they each share valuable information that will tailor one's overall product toward efficiency and completeness.

The path that the book follows in developing these strategies - starting from individual semantic elements and culminating in context-sensitive rules and guidelines - mirror the path explained in Chapter 3: Environments, Elements, and Information and the 'Starting from the Bottom' approach to understanding information. In this case, the information is the context related to a design problem.


  1. Hinton, Andrew, and Peter Morville. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2014. Print. Page 387 
  2. Hinton, Andrew, and Peter Morville. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2014. Print. Page 390 
  3. Hinton, Andrew, and Peter Morville. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2014. Print. Page 404 
  4. Hinton, Andrew, and Peter Morville. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2014. Print. Page 406