First of all, you should really consider the context of use as a whole when designing. In addition to physical properties, context has human factor and temporal dimensions.
For my (yet unreleased) master's thesis I did research on how context affects on usability, especially on how architectural space affects usability. There were some existing research on the subject.
In general about computing in context and context-awareness, there are Abowd et al.'s Towards a better understanding of context and context-awareness (PDF) and Schmidt's Ubiquitous Computing – Computing in Context.
Kim et al have studied how visual and auditory distractions affect on discovering usability problems.
First, people do not use Mobile Internet evenly in every possible context . Instead, their usage is heavily clustered around a few critical contexts, such as when they are not moving with only one hand available. Second, the type of goals that people have in their mind, the availability of hands, the movement of legs, and the level of auditory distraction have a significant impact on the usage of Mobile Internet. Finally, different usability problems are experienced more often according to different use contexts. Especially, availability of hands, movement of legs and the number of people around the user are found to have significant impacts on the kinds of usability problems.
Kim et al: An empirical study of the use contexts and usability problems in mobile Internet. (PDF)
Barnard et al studied how amount of lighting among other things affects on task completion.
This indicates that changes in lighting affected users in a fundamentally different manner than changes in motion. Apparently, lighting affected users in a slightly more superficial way, leading to decreased reading efficiency (noted by more instances of scrolling) and response selection speed, but not accuracy. It is important to note that all noteworthy differences were significant and not highly significant, indicating that the changes in motion are able to influence user behavior in a more dramatic way than changes in lighting.
Barnard et al: Capturing the effects of context on human performance in mobile computing systems (PDF)
Tsiaousis and Giaglis have evaluated environmental effects on usability.
The analysis showed that the most significant effect is that of visual motion (p =.001) whereas sound variance displayed the least significant effect. The effects of luminosity (p =.023) and sound semantics (p =.009) were also found to have a direct effect on usability.
Tsiaousis and Giaglis: Evaluating the effects of the environmental context-of-use on mobile website usability.