Reflection on Role Playing as a Research Technique

Briefly share your experience going through Dialogue in the Dark. What were some of the feelings, thoughts, challenges and insights gained while role playing a blind person? (200-300 words)

As a person who had been so dependent on the sense of sight, the idea of being in a pitch black place for an extended period of time was rather daunting. When we first started, I felt insecure as I could no longer see what lies ahead of me, and there was technically no one in front of me as I was the first in line. I did not know what to expect and had kept my right hand vehemently on the wall as we walked through the darkness in the beginning. Initially, I even felt reluctant to leave the “safety” of the walls and to move towards the voice of our guide. However, as we progressed through the exhibition, I started feeling less anxious due to the guidance and the presence of our guide and peers, as we led and helped one another in this very unfamiliar place.

Some of the challenges that I faced was probably how I could not remember to make a sound in time to signal that I have stopped walking, hence causing us to bump into each other several times. There were several occasions where I reached out my hand towards my peers without making a sound before realising that they cannot see it. Another challenge would be how I was not quite able to differentiate and identify things through only our sense of touch; such as differentiating between a real and fake leaf, and identifying the alphabets. Identifying sounds from different animals or insects was rather challenging as well; those sounds were familiar but we just could not really have a definite answer as we probably have never really tried to focus on these background noises before.

Navigating and identifying things in a controlled and safe environment like this exhibition was already rather challenging for most of us. Although we were just going through tasks which would have been mundane in our daily lives, everything felt unfamiliar in the complete darkness, and we would probably have been lost and not be able to accomplish anything without the guidance of our visually impaired guide and our peers. The exhibition made me realise how I did not truly understand the challenges of being visually impaired; who have to experience this on a daily basis, albeit in places outside where it is not exactly safe, changes are constant, and there would not be people there to guide them throughout their journey.

Drawing on your experience, can you think and list some of the benefits inherent in the design research technique of role playing?

Through this experience, we were able to personally experience how difficult it was to get through tasks in the absolute darkness, which seemed pretty simple in our daily lives. The experience enabled us to relate better to the challenges that others are facing, which may often seem like a miniscule matter to us, but were an issue to others. By experiencing the issues through the perspectives of the affected parties instead of simply looking at the issue through our point of view, we would be able to get better insights and understandings, compared to relying on the information on the web which we could understand but not completely be able to relate to.

Can you think of some contexts where role-playing can be useful  to help discover and definition of design challenges or contribute to the development of design solutions?

I think that role-playing enables people to understand better and empathise certain issues in the world or the issues that some people might face better. Sometimes, having the knowledge about an issue is different compared to having an experience about the issue. Role-playing enables designers to implement better insights and understandings in their designs and works, which would in turn create better works to suit the cause or the needs of the intended audiences. Role-playing designs could also have a greater impact on the participants as well, e.g. Dialogue in the Dark, which enabled me to understand the challenges that the visually-impaired faces better by placing myself in their shoes. Having read information about blindness and imagining or visualising the situation was definitely different compared to the impact of “experiencing” it.