Dialogue in the Dark: 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?

Dialogue in the Dark was unlike any experience I’ve had before, and I was completely oblivious as to what I would be faced with going into it. When I first heard that we would be entering a pitch black room and encountering various things completely visually impaired, I was slightly worried, as “being in the dark” and “being alone” is combination that I do not usually enjoy. However while in the exhibit, I found it to be a very eye-opening and fun experience. Although I did rely quite a bit on the people around me to ensure that I was walking in the right direction, there was something exhilarating and fun about being in a group setting and struggling together to find our way around and keep up with the tour guide.

Something that resonated with me during this experience was that I have previously experienced some hearing loss in my left ear, which has caused me to rely more heavily on my other senses such as sight, touch, and smell. However, experiencing the loss of another one of my senses was a completely different experience, and it made me realize just how much I rely on my sight in my everyday life. Even while we were in the “cafe” and I was eating the cookie that was given to me, I found myself doubting whether or not the cookie was a chocolate cookie. This shocked me because as someone who does not like to eat chocolate or chocolate flavored things, I would’ve thought that I would be able to immediately distinguish between the two. However that was not the case, and I realized that I rely so much on sight even when it comes to eating things, to the point where it has affected my ability to taste.


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

Based on my experience at Dialogue in the Dark, I would say that the most prevalent benefit that comes with the design research technique of role playing includes being able to empathize with the role that is being played. By being able to empathize with the role that is being played, you are able to effectively design for them, specifically. You are able to see things from their perspective, and thus think and do the things they do, the way they would do them. This then allows you, as a designer, to design things while considering their needs, habits, wants, as well as specific problems that they may face. By doing so, you can ensure that you meet their needs and potential wants based on their habits, and minimize or eliminate one or more of the problems.


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

A context in which role-playing could be useful would be during the ideation process of product development. Because role-playing is helpful for creating empathy for the target user or “role”, it could be used to allow product developers and all those involved realize who they are designing for, and the best way to go about it. Role-playing can also be helpful in determining the problems that must be solved or reduced in the context of the target user, and this information can be used to determine whether the product that was thought up really solves them to an effective degree. In addition, because this is done in such an early stage of product development, it allows room for realization of things that were not realized before, and thus can encourage participants in role-playing to think “outside-the-box” and not be afraid to discover new aspects, whether that be user problems or user habits, that were not considered previously. The product developers and those involved can then take the information gathered from the role-play and incorporate them as things to consider while developing and refining the product.

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