Role playing illustration

Lead paragraph

By using Role Playing designers gain an insight into other people’s feelings, attitudes and perspectives. Designers can do the role play with their own team and afterwards involve users and client-company members. Role play works mainly with improvisation, so participants need to be open-minded about it.

PREPARATION: up to 60 minutes
DURATION:  30-60 minutes
FACILITATORS: 1 per workshop
RESOURCES: Costumes and props but not necessary.
PARTICIPANTS: 3-6, design team, partners, community members, etc.
EXPECTED OUTCOME: Test of concept

Role play means creating a fictional situation which resembles a real-life situation by acting and entering into roles. Designers prototype and test service ideas, concepts or an experience quickly and cheaply.


State the selected “How Might We” statement or a sub-focus area of it.

Based on your design challenge statement or the focus of what you are interested in, define the criteria, and select suitable participants, considering not only who they are, but also what activities they would do. Consider what you want to prototype and what are the expected outcomes.

Organize a meeting with the selected participants, and gather the necessary resources and supplies. Think through the possible service situation roles. Is it a specific or generic situation or interaction, e.g. angry or happy user? Decide and distribute the roles within the participants. Sketch the roles and think for example their needs and motivations. The use of costumes and props can help, but it is fine without them. Think about what expectations will be set up-front, how you will start and end the workshop, and how much time participants are expected to dedicate to this activity.

2-4 people act the scene and the others are the audience. It is fine to change the roles and repeat, this way more people have an insight into different roles and also the story may change. In the end, actors release themselves from the roles and it is important to unravel the feelings and insights.

Analysing the role play and unravelling the observations is important. Discuss the scene you played among the whole group or in smaller groups/pairs. Analyse the feedback and comments from the audience and from the actors, e.g. what remarks the actors made while being in different roles. Make notes and connect this to real life actions. It is also possible to act it again utilizing the comments and remarks.

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