Role Playing in User Experience Design — A Real Case Study

Very recently, we were designing a mobile app. for NBA fans to help them order food inside a stadium. One of the key aspects of the ordering experience was the information about the pickup stands.These stands were located all over the stadium. These stands will prepare the order, and notify the users to pick the order once it is ready.

One of the key challenges was to model the information about these stands in the entire experience. We identified a couple of places where talking about the stands would have made sense. For example, when the user fires up the app. (the stadiums are huge and a knowing the nearest pickup stand can be useful before you order). Along with the menu (this pickup stand offers this menu). During checkout (you are about to place this order, it will be processed by this pickup stand). Or once the order is placed (the order you just placed will be ready at XYZ stand, here are the directions to the stand).

At the first sight, these pickup stands seem to warrant a mention pretty much everywhere in the navigation flow. However, we had our doubts on this omnipresent nature of these stands. After all, the app. is about ordering food, and not about the pickup stands.

Ideally, user research would have been a fact-based answer to such a dilemma. But, we didn’t have much scope of doing it in this project (sad part). However, we still wanted to get an answer to make an informed design decision. To do this, we decided to role-play our ideas. It was time to start having a conversation with our design concepts. We banked on the role-playing technique proposed by Stephen Anderson in his book Seductive Interaction Design. It requires a browser window prop (see image below) and a willing participant. The participant will ask me (the interface behind the prop) simple questions as s/he tries to place an order.

Role Playing The Browser — Technique proposed by Stephen P. Anderson in his book Seductive Interaction Design

Some startling results came out of this. In short, we understood:

  • how to model these stands in the entire navigation
  • what is the most crucial information about these stands (we clipped a lot of pieces which we initially thought were relevant)
  • a reason why users will care to know (and not know) too much about these stands

Here are the BEFORE and AFTER version of the conversation.

One simple technique, startling results! We should, however, employ usability testing techniques to validate our designs.

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away

– Antoine De Saint-Exupery

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