Sunday, April 25, 2010

On The Move With A Magic Thing: Role Playing In Concept Design Of Mobile Services And Devices

This study, conducted in 2000, evaluated the success of using role playing to design a mobile network for the campus of Helsinki University of Technology to investigate the nomadic Internet use of the future. The design team hoped to overcome three main difficulties of their task through role playing. The design team was planning for the use of a technology that did not exist at the time, so it was hard to know how it would be used. They needed a design that allowed for mobility, and they had to incorporate their users' lifestyles and cultures into their plan for the technology.

The designers used two methods of role playing. One of these is called participatory design technique, in which the designers asked a sample of their target audience to enact daily situations imagining using a technology in a variety of campus settings and while playing either themselves or different roles. They utilized props to make the situation seem more realistic. In contrast, the second type of role playing, referred to as Situated and Participative Enactment of Scenarios (SPES) had people carry a mock up of the anticipated product in their hand with them through their daily activities and imagine how they might use the product. A trained observer recorded the participant's thoughts. The study revealed the following strengths of role playing in general.

  • Engages users in a common cause
  • Good way to investigate the consequences of decisions or designs with little risk or cost
  • Captures cultural aspects well in designs and decisions


The study also made it clear that the participatory design technique in which people acted out fictional situations was better suited to designing services involving group interaction and dynamic incidents. In contrast, SPES was more useful for considering less dynamic activities such as listening to music, and it helped give designers a more detailed scenario because the recorder noted the context of a user's actions.



  1. I think this is an interesting approach to role playing. I wonder if the same idea could be used as a business tool for product innovation.

  2. Nice find. Would be interesting to see how successful were those products / services developed this way and it it was perceived the same way by actual consumers as well.