We present a framework for understanding product usage context and its impact upon customer needs and product preferences. We conduct customer interviews with two sets of representative products from the functional families of “mobile lighting” and “food boiling” products. Customer interviews lead to identification and characterization of distinct product usage contexts. Interactive surveys measuring customer product choice support the hypothesis that customer product preferences differ for each usage context identified. Further analysis shows that attributes of these chosen products are related to factors of the usage context (e.g. mass is related to transportation mode). These results demonstrate that valuable insight for product design is available through an understanding of usage context, and future work will refine and test methods to formally bring contextual information to bear on product design. These capabilities will be especially important for contexts in which needs assessment has traditionally been difficult, such as with latent needs and frontier design environments.

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