IA Summit: Participatory Design

Posted on: April 14, 2008

Purpose of participatory design: To understand the people using your site and uncover latent needs and desires. Then translate those needs into product.

Setting up the lab

Large TV used for demonstrations (show and tell), don’t have to crowd around small monitor
Cameras set up around the room to get a variety of angles, including ceiling (to get a shot of what people are working on)
Used Austin Powers and Homer Simpson cut outs – sets mood of relaxation and fun
Large table for people to spread out and be creative
Large whiteboard for brainstorming
One-way mirror where the team can watch the sessions
Keep the session relaxed
Food – helps breaks down the social barriers


Use an incentive of $150-200
Communicate about the food options that are going to be available so that person can eat if only snacks are provided (and are not thinking about food the entire time)
6-9 participants
Can have designer or business person co-facilitate (take pictures, answer questions)
Recruit with specific specifications in mind (newbie, expert, mix, ect)


Example: Design a coffee maker

Workflows and Features: Steps required to make coffee and/or tea
Show and Tell: Used a Similar Coffee Maker? Describe the steps to make it work
Individual Design Exercise: Sketch your ideas coffee maker
Discuss of the Individual Designs
Work as a team of 3 and and sketch new design
Discussion of th Group Design


Construct designs

Can have magnetic interface elements
Post it notes
Construction paper
Glue stick!!
Have people construct designs
Seed pieces: to cut or not to cut? Cut out pieces, but not too many. Don’t make multiple copies of the same thing (ex: more than one search box – too granular).
8.5×11 for individual

8.5×14 or 11×17 for group sessions

Can give screenshots of other websites such as Amazon, Walmart, Google (without brand) and allow people to cut out elements.

Can also have a second package that is more leading and fancy such as ajax elements and competitors sites. This provides for multiple datapoints. They first work with package 1 then 10 minutes later they get package 2.

Looking for discussion and underlying content, not layout
Differences in individual and group designs
Sequence of the elements that they took out/cut out and used
Provide very specific tasks or personas for the design activity

Don’t take participants design literally! Trying to get at the root of the need.

Running a Session: Tips & Tricks

Move from general to specific to avoid biasing
Introduction (Great Greg, Magnificent Michael, ect)
Want to be dressed better than participants (to assert authority)
Make crazy faces at people behind the mirror (acknowledge that they are being watched)
Warm up – use whiteboard to write down activities, existing features, features wanted
People talk about physical features, but we are looking for underlying motivations and roles. Probe participants to get at the “why”
Round Robin – ask people what they think (don’t do this too often)
Can have design review of group design – better if people did not design the same thing to avoid competition

Will end up with lots of data points around the artifact creation!


It’s going to take 2 weeks (recommended timeline)

  • take time off
  • watch the videos again, if you hear something interesting you type it up
  • reconstruct the sequence
  • come up with a report and plan 4-5 insights
  • Looking for worksflows, goals/motivations, interests, expectations, behaviors, mental models, features
    • features are least important, people have a hard time expression features. It is better to understand the underlying needs.
  • Create roles (mini personas): motivations, behaviors, expectations, interesting in ..

Technorati Tags:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Alla Zollers

I design products and services that just. make. sense.

When products make sense, customers are happy.

If customer are happy, they sign-up, stay on site, engage, share, and buy your product or service.

Happy customers allow companies to profit in both senses of the word.

I provide the following services:

• Heuristic Evaluations
• Discovery Research
• Strategy and Vision Development
• Information Architecture
• User Experience Design
• Usability Testing

You can find me on:

Twitter Updates

Error: Please make sure the Twitter account is public.


%d bloggers like this: