"What Makes Things Cool? Unpacking the Cool User Experience"


What makes people describe the products they use as “cool?" Can teams deliberately design for cool? What mysterious forces need to align in order to create the most innovative products possible? To find out, we immersed ourselves in the experiences of everyday people as they used their coolest products. And we discovered there’s really nothing magical about it. It’s about joy and the underlying seven Cool Concepts — the core human motivations at the very heart of joy. The Cool Concepts create a framework for guiding design and analyzing products. The Cool Concepts also require us to change our current methods for user research and design for the next generation of users and platforms.


Karen is the visionary behind InContext's unique customer-centered design approach, Contextual Design. Karen's combination of technological and psychological expertise provides the creative framework for driving the development, innovative designs and design processes.

Recognized as a leader in the design community, Karen has pioneered transformative ideas and design approaches throughout her career. Most recently, Karen initiated the Cool Project to explore users’ experience of cool products. The November 2011 issue of Interactions showcased the core factors affecting the “cool” user experience in the cover story, “What Makes Things Cool?”

Karen introduced contextual inquiry, now the industry standard for gathering field data to understand how technology impacts the way people work. Contextual inquiry and the design processes based on it provide a revolutionary approach for designing new products and systems based on a deep understanding of the context of use. Contextual Inquiry forms the base of Contextual Design, InContext's full customer-centered design process.

Karen co-founded InContext Design in 1992 to use Contextual Design techniques to coach product teams and deliver market data and design solutions to businesses across multiple industries. Her books, Contextual Design: Defining Customer Centered Systems and Rapid Contextual Design, are used by companies and universities all over the world. Karen is a member of the CHI Academy, and in 2010 received CHI’s first Lifetime Award for Practice for her impact on the field.

Karen also has more than 25 years of teaching experience, professionally and in university settings. She holds a doctorate in applied psychology from the University of Toronto.