Informance is a combination of role-play, improvisation and bodystorming. Informance is unique in the way that it places designers in the minds and bodies of users for design ideation. In some ways, the purpose of informance and ethnographic research is similar such that they are both supposed to give an in-depth understanding of the customer; however, informance goes beyond understanding the customer’s culture and motivations.

Quick details: Informance

Structure: Semi-structured

Preparation: Research before Informance

Deliverables: Skit or Play

More about Informance

The purpose of informance is to create characters that have informed opinions about products and service offerings. The process of informance starts by first studying the existing customers and then role-playing potential customers based on the former observations.

Informance, like role-play is used as a way to gather data, improvise and role-play to gather more data or feedback from the activity. The participants who are the designers play certain roles in a skit where they try to enact complex scenarios as their customers. Depending on the intended data to be gathered, researchers perform roles based on instructions. Informance i.e. pretending to be potential customers reinforces empathy among designers for their customers and allows for a deeper reflection of their own attitudes and biases toward the customers. 

Informance is quite useful in several situations such as when the researcher doesn’t have any understanding of the potential customers; For example, when a 50-year old researcher is designing for a teenager. Similarly, when the researcher is required to generate ideas for new products based on their understanding of the customer’s needs – informance can prove to be highly valuable. Informances are usually performed in groups with or without an audience.

There are two types of informance techniques that can be employed to generate ideas. Performance and Design Improv

Performance (feedback)To perform for an audience and get feedback from other team members. If required, the performance can also be held in front of the customer segments being designed to collect feedback and incorporate in the design.Different team members feel included in the design process.
  • Requires an experienced researcher who has had a professional training in performance.
  • Performances may be based on a pre-planned script which can restrict the creative flow the performances could take.
Design Improv (reflection)To perform with only the team members of the design team as participants. The activity can probe the designers and researchers to reflect on their attitudes and biases about the potential customers.
  • The participants can be less polished or do not require necessarily professional training in performance.
  • Since improvisations happen during performances, the informance can take any flow or design direction that the team members agree upon.
  • As the improvisations could take any flow mutually agreed by the team members, a control researcher or facilitators may be required to manage the flow.
  • The improvisation may be time consuming.


Advantages of Informance

1. Deep reflection

Informance allows for researchers to live the experiences of the users first hand. This helps researchers reflect about their attitudes about the users as well as express the design ideas developed so far.

2. Key insights

Informances act as early representations of design ideas and can be communicated with the help of performances to elicit key insights on the designs.

3. Inclusion and Sync

Informances allows all the researchers involved in developing a design to sync up and feel included in the design process.

4. Fun

In design research methods, design informance is among the fun methods used to generate and communicate design ideas.


Disadvantages of Informance

1. Trained researcher

A trained researcher is important to communicate design ideas effectively through performances.

2. Unfamiliar method

Some researchers may not be comfortable to perform in front of an audience or even team members. This will not only affect the communication of ideas or designs but also affect the kind of insights that can be generated from informance.

3. Reflection

Informance also relies a great deal on the ability of researchers to reflect and learn from doing. Some researchers may have different learning styles and so the quality of findings from informance for them may not meet expectations.

Think Design's recommendation

Informance is a powerful method that can potentially help designers/ researchers and their audience discover insights through deeply immersing themselves in research before and then, enacting their understanding. Use informance when the intent is to innovate a product, redefine a category or present a context to the audience. 

Informance is not your method when all you are looking for is, an insight into usability or user experience issues of an existing product and you intend to advance it by improving it.

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