Bodystorming is a form of brainstorming when we use our body to gain insights and experiences. By running a bodystorming session, you will learn how people act and perform in-situ interactions in scenarios. But have you really explored the power of bodystorming in breadth and depth? In this article, I share my tips from 15 years of experience in design and research methods. One of the critical problems for user interface designers who employ methods like observation is to find techniques that help make the conceptual leap from "what is" to "what might be". Bodystorming helps make that leap.
Bodystorming is extremely useful in personal and ubiquitous computing. Imagine a mobile phone, google glass, X-ray vision, new health gadgets, mechanical arms, and XR technologies. Using our body to act out situations and interactions help us to sense the world besides just thinking about how we would perceive the world during brainstorming.
Source: Social Tapestries
A bit more about Bodystorming
One of the earliest accounts of bodystorming as a research method in computer science academic literature can be traced back to 1994 in the conference of human factors in computing systems. Thanks to the Royal College of Art, London and the Interval Research Corp from Palo Alto, who came together to create a practice of informance design. They established informance design and shared their research on bodystorming and the previous observations:
- Performance could allow designers to imagine better.
- Enactive, experiential behaviour might spark imagination and creativity in ways that may not occur at the drawing board.
- Games and role-play allow for easier credential-independent collaboration.
Often tacit knowledge is not readily observable, but through bodystorming, we can experience the world, by acting out situations. Besides, the power of collaborating and sharing experience improves our understanding and empathy of how people might experience the products or services that we design. Bodystorming is usually part of experience prototyping.
How to run a bodystorming session with rigour?
Often people do bodystorming alone or in groups where each member of the group does it alone again grr.... The best practice is when we do it with a role-play. Here, I share my secrets that lie in the preparation and the process.
1. At least two people. If more than two, divide them into groups of three. In that case, everyone takes the role of the actor and observer.
2. Sharpies, stickies, paper, tapes, furniture or props to act as furniture.
3. A physical prototype of the gadget/technology to body storm. If this technology is not built yet, create a physical prototype with cardboard or paper. A prototype that will be in a format to proxy for the research.
4. Physically warm-up and relax to perform. Get rid of shyness. Remember you are contributing to knowledge. Role-playing experiences in arts and drama classes will come in handy here for those of us who are shy.
Step 1. Write the situation on a paper where you will work on the bodystorming.
Example: Consider bodystorming about an active duty nurse. She is carrying a watch to receive notifications when she is walking around in wards.
Step 2. Write at least three possible scenarios that take place during the situation on the same paper.
Example: Scenario 1, the nurse receives a routine inspection reminder while she is doing her regular duty.
Scenario 2, a patient seeks her attention as they saw her physically while she just received a notification on her watch.
And so, on. Past research from primary and secondary data would be beneficial to create some of these scenarios.
Step 3. On a different sheet of paper, write down issues that may occur in those scenarios. Also, write down all the possible great ideas (if any came out).
Step 4. Set up the physical space of the nurse's hospital. Use tapes on the floor to mark boundaries. Use the ordinary everyday furniture that's around you. I often used chairs to represent an elevator. Sometimes I used an upside-down chair for a safe disposal area of a hospital. Add notes with post-its to let the actor know what the furniture represents. The aim is to make the scenario realistic to do proper bodystorming. In the absence of furniture, you can put tapes on the floor too. For an interactive device, you can use an actor as an object. For example, an actor can be a vending machine, an ATM, a tree too.
Step 5. Assign roles to the two people. One participant is an actor and the other the observer. Mark the actors with sticky notes.
Step 6. The actor plays the first scenario of “step 2” above. Note, actors can be objects and technology too. They are playing the role after-all (see Sara’s article for an excellent example). The observer writes notes, takes photos, sketches and on occasion can use two superpowers.
Superpower 1-the power to freeze a situation.
Superpower 2- to create what-if scenarios. Actor stops when freeze is used. The observer may take photos and notes. Then the observer may add new scenarios in step 2 as what-if scenarios. Actors should not bother about the observer and impartially think aloud while acting the scenario. Shyness, does not help anyone. Overall just be playful and enjoy. Finally, switch roles, where the observer becomes actor but for a different scenario in step-2. Repeat this until all scenarios are completed. (Initial scenarios + the what-if scenarios).
- Bodystorming is an ideation method. After this you need to create the prototype(s) and conduct user testing.
- Bodystorming IS NOT user testing.Bodystorming IS NOT prototyping.
- DO NOT REPLAY scenarios. One actor only plays the same scenario once. Why? Because when an observer enacts the same scenario, they will be biased and do things differently. Bodystorming is not an improvement in performance or competition. It is collaboration.
- Observers DO NOT JUDGE. No matter how the actor of the scenario plays the role, it teaches the observer about all the untaken options too. What the observer can do is use the superpower to freeze a situation and take notes. During "freeze" the observer can create additional what-if scenarios. Then based on turns, the observer and the actor plays those scenarios: strict rule, one actor per scenario.
Bodystorming teaches us a lot about people and their context. It is a complementary research method for creating great solutions.
Bodystorming helps to leap from "what is" to "what might be", scientifically. I highly recommend it to use in conjunction with other methods.
How do we run bodystorming in conjuction with other methods? Here's how it would look like. Let's use an example.
Imagine you are creating a new drive-through experience for shopping. You should follow these steps:
Step 1. Run observation sessions of the drive-through areas, people, traffic, entrance, exits, duration, browsing capability, ordering station and serving station.
Step 2. Verify through interviews the findings from step 1 and what do we know, and what are assumptions.
Step 3. Speak with technical experts and developers about the technological landscape assessment. What technologies are we considering for creating the experience?
Step 4. Brainstorm to create problems, situations, technologies, constraints, people, and the task they want to do.
Step 5. Brainstorm to create problems, situations, technologies, constraints, people, and the task they want to do.
Remember, choosing the right methods for the proper software development is a crucial step, and bodystorming is just one of them that's suitable for solutions for example, with hololens, IoT, wearables, portables, to name a few.