Contextmapping is more than a collection of methods, it is a design research approach with basic principles. These basics are presented here. For more theoretical background visit the TU Delft contextmapping website.
Designing for people means gaining empathy with them. Empathy is a process that starts with wanting to learn more about the other (for more information about empathy in design, see Sleeswijk Visser 2009).
Study products and services in the context of everyday life
Products and services do not exist in vacuum: they are part of an everyday context in which people (even passively) use them in combination with other products, services, people in a variety of places and over time.
People are experts of their own experiences. By inviting people in their expertise role and clearly explaining how important contributions from their point of view are, people will enjoy opening up and provide valuable information.
Generative techniques are needed to reach deeper levels of knowledge
People are not directly aware of their everyday experiences. With interviews you find out what they say and think. With observations you find out what they do and how they use things. With generative techniques you find out what they know and feel and maybe even dream of. Contextmapping makes use of a combination of these techniques.
People have a hard time looking into the future. By taking them on a journey of what is meaningful for them personally in the present and in the past, they are much more aware of what might matter to them in the future.
Storytelling is a powerful way of what a concept might offer the user(s). By explaining and visualizing the effects that a concept can have, people will understand its essence more intuitively and quickly.