Sunday, March 25, 2012

Role Playing in Concept Design of Mobile Services and Devices

Authors Giulio Iacucci, Kari Kuutti and Mervi Ranta’s article On the Move with a Magic Thing: Role Playing in Concept Design of Mobile Services and Devices discusses using two participatory techniques including role playing to investigate the end-user’s experience of a new product in a possible wireless network in order to link use scenarios with the generative design process. The first technique uses a role-playing game, where users play in a representation of the environment using toys. The second technique, SPES (Situated and Participative Enactment of Scenarios), users are followed during their normal activities and provided with very simple mock-ups.

For the role playing scenario, participants play roles or act as themselves in given situations. The situations and the roles are taken from the user studies or else are invented. The players imagine what kind of devices or services could support their mobility and communication, and they discuss, and act out the ideas in the given situation. Each session was opened by an introduction with which to state the goals and to inform the players about the game material. The games lasted about 2 hours. The authors designed the game for 5 participants, in which 3 users were actual players and 2 were designers who helped keep the game moving. One designer also acted as a game master, monitoring the game and seeing that the rules were followed. In terms of environment, the authors prepared 5 different places that players would probably visit with their toy characters during the game, which each had incident cards would introduce some surprises to the game. After the play, the users form small groups engaging in several conversations about the concept armed with a full understanding of the implications, operations and expectations of what the product would do.

The second technique, SPES, the authors provided users with very simple mock-ups of future devices. The users use the mock-ups to envision ideas of services and product features acting out use scenarios as interesting situations arise. A designer shadowed the user for one or two days in his/her normal activities and documented with a diary to record the user’s activities.

The two techniques described yielded different types of product concepts. The role-playing games seem to be appropriate for services involving group interaction and dynamic incidents. On the other hand, SPES helped to consider also less dynamic activities like listening to music or checking news on the web. Moreover, the scenarios extracted from SPES are more detailed because it is possible to record realistic contextual information. The two techniques provided a platform which helps the designer and the users discover use scenarios taking into account the various aspects of mobility and the reality of human action.

Iacucci, G., Kuutti, K., & Ranta, M. (2000). On the move with a magic thing: Role playing in concept design of mobile services and devices. Designing Interactive Systems, Retrieved from


  1. What's interesting is that the authors used a role-play technique to design new wireless product. However, the one of the most successful wireless products, the iPhone didn't go through any market research like this. Apple has openly shunned any type of market research. The company has the philosophy of not asking customers what they want because the customer doesn't know what they need.

  2. For apple, I don't think they really needed to do any research. They are already branded, and know the basic trend in technology of making products smaller, faster, slicker, and include all forms of communication if possible,....and have access to facebook.