As children we learn through play. Whether it’s gaining an understanding of our own physical limits (I cannot leap over wide streams, as I learned in the backyard forest of my childhood home, 6 yrs old), or learning how to juggle multiple tasks at once (the restaurant business is a tough one, even with magazine menus and Play Dough food, 8 yrs old), or figuring out the best way to work with others toward a shared goal (the strategy for winning Red Rover requires everyone’s buy-in, 11 yrs old).
We make sense of the world by exploring it through play. It’s a great way to learn because it’s fun; it requires engagement and an element of make-believe. It’s also tangible.
Fast forward to our adult years. We trade in learning through trying (or, pretending) for more internal, process-oriented methods of discovery and problem solving. We figure things out in our heads, still using imagination, but in a more constrained sense.
As designers, we internalize the processes required to get to a solution to the extent they become second nature. We use knowledge developed from previous experience (projects) and apply it to new problems. For sure, we get inventive. We’re not always relying on our box of tricks. But there is a big opportunity to explore our work from another angle if we incorporate “play” into the process, particularly when we are designing experiences that involve people and the interactions they have in the world with other people, services, and digital touchpoints.
As a design tool, play means acting out the experience we are creating; playing out scenarios, using props, and getting into character make it easy to quickly foresee and correct idiosyncrasies, awkward moments, or emotional hurdles (and wins) we otherwise couldn’t notice. Experience Prototyping, as it’s called, is a great method for finessing the services and interactions we design…and aside from being incredibly fast, easy, and valuable, it’s fun.
And maybe you’ll also learn a little something about yourself to boot (I can do a pretty mean impression of a refrigerator sales person, 40 yrs old).