A Role Play is a type of prototyping or simulation technique that can help in quickly eliciting the user experience for a product or service from the target audience. A role-play, just like prototyping can be used as a way to gather data, tweak and re role-play to gather more data from the activity. The participants in this method of research essentially play certain roles in a skit or a conversation.

Quick details: Role Play

Structure: Structured, Semi-structured

Preparation: Script, Props/ Products, Respondents/ Participants recruitment

Deliverables: Recordings, Documentation

Role Play

Depending on the expected nature of the exchange or intended data to be gathered, a few participants are given the script in advance and a few are asked to either play themselves or specific roles based on instructions. The different scripts that the participants play out can be designed, as different scenarios where the participants are immersed in those scenarios to understand how each one would react in specific situations. 

After each role-play exercise, the participants including the researchers reflect on the interaction and play out the other scenarios or re-play the same scenario with changes to gauge whether changes can alter the experiences of the participants. A variation of this exercise involves re-playing the same scenario with different participants or, changing the character profiles of the participants to understand how different users would act in the same situation.


Role Play and Scenarios

A role-play as such is not so easy to design but when trying to create a product or service, can prove to be a helpful method in figuring out user requirements, expectations, competencies, acceptance as well as instill a feeling of ownership within the users. The users can also feel more involved in the design process making this a user-centered approach.

A scenario can either be split up in smaller manageable scenarios or played out as one longer scenario but role-play can be exhausting and usually stay restricted to an hour in duration. For a longer duration, the participants as well as the observers must change so limit biases from creeping into the research data. Some scenarios can be played out with props or prototypes to make them more real for the participants. In some cases, the participants can role-play a hypothetical service experience assuming that the service really exists and then building a potential journey through some of its functionalities.

Role-playing is regarded as a method to assist design ideation in research. As compared to other design ideation methods such as focus groups, dyads and triads, or brainstorming, role-play allows for much more spontaneous, natural and real insights. This may be because role-playing sessions create more number of scenarios than other ideation methods within an equal amount of time. Additionally, scenarios from role-playing provide richer insights with a lot more details giving the designers with many more recalibration possibilities.


Advantages of Role-play

1. Thought diversity and richer insights

One can get a large number of diverse ideas from different participants. Additionally, role-play is a far superior method to generate design ideas as it lets the participants act and react naturally as they work otherwise in a service interaction or a simulation exercise.

2. Quick idea generation

With more individuals involved in the activity, many ideas can be generated quickly.

3. Creative problem solving

Stimulates creative problem solving within the group. With a few variations, designers can also understand how the same users may react in different scenarios or different user experiences within the same scenario.

4. No fear of judgment

Participants usually participant in role-play without fear of any judgement as the activity of role-play is a fun activity.


Disadvantages of Role-play

1. Time Consuming

Is more time-consuming than a few other methods such as brainstorming and focus groups as well as more exhausting.

2. Innovation

May not result in unbiased innovative ideas from a single person. Again, new participants playing a role in the same scenario, and same participants playing different roles in the same scenario are different versions of role-play and must be tried to get richer insights from each session.

Think Design's recommendation

Heard of six thinking hats? It could be considered a role-play method. Essentially role-play requires designers to play particular roles to see concepts, ideas or propositions from different perspectives. Say, for example, a team of designers is discussing a potential concept. In order that the group elicits different perspectives on these concepts, one may play the role of a proponent, the other opponent and the third, a devil’s advocate. While doing this, the same concept can be seen in different lights.

Use role-play to evaluate a concept, design or an idea in order to look at it through a different lens. Role Play may not be all-encompassing and conclusive; however, this activity does help in early evaluations. Role-play is not a substitute for user testing or prototyping; however, it can complement these methods.

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