Role-play for product design

It seems obvious, but one of the great ways to think about the user flow and processes in a product design is to actually role-play.

I was working with a company where most of their employees were using WhatsApp as their primary communication platform, and they were about to switch to developing their own app to support all the various communication requirements of the team, in theory this was a good decision and a practical, but it would cost time and lots of money to develop, and given the operating systems, it would have taken lots of time to up keep as well.

We concluded that a more practical option at this stage would be to develop a chatbot that sits within WhatsApp, it would be faster and easier to develop and maintain and easier for staff to get used to.

But the problem was mapping out the different user paths inside of the chatbot, not only so that engineers would know how to build, but also so that we could understand the various paths a user might end up taking. If we were going to build a chatbot and get people to use it, we needed to make sure that it was able to do what we were proposing, on a specific level, not just in theory.

It seems straightforward that we could happy just drawn a user journey map with the different options, but what really made a big difference was the founder of the company and I sitting there role-playing, and sending messages back and forth to simulate real scenarios we had defined that users in the company might encounter.

This allowed us to successfully address several areas –

First we were able to map out specific parts of the flows, and identify and remedy specific areas that might have caused problems.

We were also able to think about the navigation and communication methods, how and what should be edited to make it as user friendly and reduce the margin for errors 

Finally, we were able to surface and remedy areas of confusion that if we handn’t role-played we would have missed.

At the end of the day, Role-play is simply a tool, but if you find yourself trying to develop a system where  errors through the process are important to address, running a role-play simulation can help surface steps in the process that might be a problem.

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