Earlier today I was part of an all day off-site workshop which included a role playing session. I was a bit skeptical of how valuable it'd be but tried to keep an open mind. Without giving away any big secrets, each small group member was assigned a persona complete with some background info, a photo, and other useful tidbits. The moderator then explained the scenario we were about to find ourselves in.
It was a little awkward at first, but before long I really felt like we were thinking like the members of the group we were trying to understand (as best we could). At the end I was surprised by how much more in touch I felt with this group of people we'd never met.
Originally I wondered why we should go to all this effort when a simple thought experiment would suffice. But it turns out that the act of playing a few scenarios out with others makes you think about things "in context" rather than looking in as an outsider might.
Now I find myself worried that we don't do this nearly often enough. I've participated in usability studies before, where you can watch someone up close and personal (thru the one-way glass). Those are also very enlightening. But I always found myself wondering why the participant was thinking they way were. This was different.
To walk a mile in your users' shoes is an exercise worth trying at least once.
Posted by jzawodn at December 12, 2005 11:14 PM