A typical design method cycle involves preliminary research, solution design, testing (more research), tweaking the design and then testing again until the design specifications are finalized. Designers or researchers usually prefer to design the solution in their own environment. Bodystorming changes this by placing the researcher to design in the environment that the solution is meant for. A combination of role-play and simulation, bodystorming takes place in a physical environment, instilling a feeling of empathy for the users.
The designers or researchers can observe the users; participate in the bodystorming session as well as see things from the user’s perspective, thereby, understanding the user’s needs an behavior with respect to their context. Bodystorming helps researchers weave stories out of things present in the environment of the user under inquiry. Bodystorming is also a form of brainstorming using the body i.e. by acting out stories or simulating something very close to reality with the objective of generating ideas. The participants generate ideas, act-out stories and rapidly share learning. Therefore, bodystorming is not only used to generate ideas, but also communicate developed ideas quickly to get feedback and improvise further.
In bodystorming, the researcher needs to observe the user in their context along with understanding the context, so the researcher typically sets up a workstation in the user’s environment for the duration of the research. There could be several bodystorming sessions playing-out different scenarios over a couple of days or months with new learning or involve improvement either within the same session or subsequent. The props or accessories used during bodystorming must be items existing in the physical environment of the users. Bodystorming can be performed with a limited number of participants, usually not more than 10, as the more the number of participants, the complexity and time go up with each additional participant thereafter. In this method, users also become part of the design team; they can critique design ideas and influence design decisions that will ultimately impact their work and life.
Advantages of Bodystorming
As bodystorming is the study of user behavior in their natural environment, it invokes empathy among the participants or the researchers for the users in relation to their context.
Bodystorming, like role-play, role-reversal and informance, gives way to reflection in the participants.
03 Connection between the researcher and users
As users become a part of the design team, they can influence the design decisions that impact them. It also helps the designer and user to develop camaraderie where the user can give authentic and valuable feedback to the researchers.
04 First-hand user experience
The researcher’s relocation to the user’s context allows them to not only observe but also experience the user behavior, triggers, challenges and resolutions at the workplace.
05 Heightened awareness
Bodystorming makes way for heightened awareness of the environment and the day-to-day intricacies as well as situations of the users.
Disadvantages of Bodystorming
01 Uncomfortable for some users
Bodystorming may be uncomfortable for some users who know about the researchers relocating to their context. Similarly, if the users also participate in the bodystorming sessions, they may not always be comfortable with the admitting certain challenges as true in their own context.
When the context of the user is of a sensitive nature such as a children’s hospital or a mental health clinic, bodystorming must be performed with sensitivity. Additionally, maybe it will not be entirely possible for the researchers to locate to the user’s environment, so they must choose an environment either the closest or of similar attributes to experience similar behaviors and triggers.
Bodystorming is time-consuming as it requires the researchers to observe the users and their environments as well. So even though the feedback and creativity mechanism is quick, the overall observational aspect may not be as easy or quick.
04 Well-trained and experienced researcher
Bodystorming requires a well-trained and experienced researcher who can handle situations sensibly, sensitively and knows all the ethical issues as well as the challenges of this research method.
Think Design recommendation
Body storming is a kind of an empathy tool that helps researcher/ designer learn by being the user in the original context of usage. By employing this method, the researcher can understand what it is like, to be in the shoes of the user.
It is different from role play in that, during body storming, the researcher/ designer subjects himself/ herself to the same conditions as the user. Hence, it is much more than role-play.
It is different from Ethnography in that, the researcher/ designer while in ethnography performs the role of a researcher (learning through experiencing the environment) but not being the user exactly. The researcher asks questions, makes observations etc., in ethnography which is very different from the learning's researcher/ designer gets doing body storming.
Do use body storming as a technique for researching before design or testing your design, in situations where making yourself go through the conditions can significantly lead to defining/ refining design. For example, if a designer is designing a navigation tool for the blind, it benefits if the designer blindfolds him/ her and tries to navigate.