Sep 14, 2010

Level Up: Using Games for Inspiration

Marsha Plat's picture
Marsha Plat
Director, User Experience

Last week Hot hosted an IxDA talk with Dave Gray, co-author of the new O'Reilly book "Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers." The idea of the book is to use games as a way to brainstorm (which becomes "gamestorming"). The book includes instructions on a number of different games gathered from different sources. Some of the games are pretty common techniques used here at Hot, such as Card Sorting, Dot Voting, and SWOT Analysis. Others have intriguing names like Product Pinocchio, Staple Yourself to Something, and... Bodystorming.

In Bodystorming, the group acts out the problem using role play and props. Dave described how this technique was used to come up with a particularly interesting solution to a problem seen almost every morning--the disposable coffee cup. (Not only do paper cups pile up in landfills, but producing paper is very resource-intensive, according to the Environmental Defense Fund.)

Approaching this problem with Bodystorming, the participants created a mock Starbucks with folding chairs and paper cups. They then acted out the roles of customers and baristas, tweaking different elements of the scenario. In the end there was seed of an idea that got written up in a blog. This blog post happened to catch the eye of the director of Environmental Affairs at Starbucks and the BetaCup Challenge was born. The challenge was to come up with a solution to cup waste and Starbucks would sponsor $20,000 in cash prizes.

Interestingly, the winning design was also about gaming–not about eco-materials, or usability, or even aesthetics as you might initially suspect. Customers who brought in a reusable cup had a very good chance of winning a free beverage. Here’s how it worked: Each time a customer brought in a reusable cup, a mark was made on a chalkboard by the register. Every tenth customer to get a mark won a free beverage. The presence of the board reinforces the behavior. Even if you don’t win, by looking at the board you see that you are part of a larger social project.

Here’s the winning description:


Credits: Mira, Gillian, Nick, Zarla, Ruth

It seems clear that Bodystorming is a really good method for any design problem that includes social interaction or social dynamics. The participants can't ignore these factors while play acting. The revealing fact from the BetaCup example is that Bodystorming is good at uncovering unseen social dynamics. When first thinking about the problem of disposable cup waste, the designers thought the problem was with the cup. After the Bodystorming exercise, the social dynamics became clear and shifted the problem up a level from single cup to social system. It's exactly this leveling up that makes using games so powerful.

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