100 User Experience (UX) Design and Evaluation Methods for Your Toolkit
This is the 20th in a series of 100 short articles about UX design and evaluation methods. This entry focuses on the use of a prop called the “magic thing” that can serve as an ideation tool in the design of mobile, ambient, and ubiquitous systems.
Method 20 of 100: The Magic Thing
In a 2000 article, Guilio and colleagues describe various role-playing techniques that support the ideation and concept development of mobile services and devices. In their research, they asked participants to carry a “magic thing” as they walked around different locales and use it “to imagine how a portable device could support [them] in a particular situation” (p. 199). The rationale was that the use of a prop might provoke some novel ideas that would not emerge sitting around a table doing traditional group brainstorming. One common approach for this method would be to give people scenarios and then let them walk around a particular area like a city or building to imagine what kind of “magic” a portable device could provide. One scenario might be to find a restaurant in a city that you have never visited before that serves a certain kind of food and is quiet. Another simple scenario might be to envision software that would help you, a brand new employee, locate people with specific kinds of knowledge in a large office. In the graphic below a magic thing is used to evoke ideas about how context-aware devices might help someone in a strange city.
According to different sources, Jeff Hawkins, one of the inventors of the PalmPilot PDA, carried a small block of wood about the size of the Palm device with him to help envision how the device might benefit him at work (e.g. to generate a to-do list or use a calendar) and at home (e.g. to create a shopping list). The block of wood was his “magic thing” and provided inspiration for a generation of mobile devices.
Howard and his colleagues (2002) described “endowed props” that are rough physical simulations of devices that can used in role-playing The props can be used to provide some constraints on the ideas participants generate so the results are “plausible science” rather than science fiction. Howard et al. suggest endowing props with particular capabilities like speech recognition, one at a time, so as not to provide too much magic to the participants.
When to Use:
You can use a magic thing to:
- Serve as a rough example of the form factor of proposed devices (e.g. a pen, tablet, phone, or clip-on device)
- Complement scenario creation exercises
- Add some fun and minimal constraints to role-playing studies
- Provide a triggering function for ideas
The two articles referenced below provide several variations on role-playing or scenario enactment that involve magic things or endowed props. Here is a simplified procedure adapted from Howard, et al.
- The design/research team introduces the participants (the actors) to a scenario that they are to act out. For example, the scenario might have you lost in a city like Rome after missing your tour bus.
- The participants review the scenario with a member of the design team and personalize it to their own situation.
- The participants act out a scenario without the magic thing.
- The participants are given or choose a prop (their magic things).
- They are told what magical powers it has (to start). For example, the magic thing knows where it is (e.g., has GPS) and has information about commercial establishments and ratings of service for many companies.
- The participants and design team then engage in participatory role-playing where the magic thing can acquire new powers and lose old ones. For example, you might start with a magic thing that is location aware with information about services and then add a magic power like augmented reality where you visualize information as an overlay over camera images.
- The sessions are recorded and the ideas that emerge are captured and applied to a new round of role-playing that expands on promising ideas. Here you take good ideas about how to build magic into a portable device and do a deeper level of role playing to get more specific ideas.
Giulio Iacucci, Kari Kuutti, and Mervi Ranta. 2000. On the move with a magic thing: role playing in concept design of mobile services and devices. In Proceedings of the 3rd conference on Designing interactive systems: processes, practices, methods, and techniques (DIS '00), Daniel Boyarski and Wendy A. Kellogg (Eds.). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 193-202. DOI=10.1145/347642.347715.
Steve Howard, Jennie Carroll, John Murphy, and Jane Peck. 2002. Using 'endowed props' in scenario-based design. In Proceedings of the second Nordic conference on Human-computer interaction (NordiCHI '02). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 1-10. DOI=10.1145/572020.572022.