Participatory Design Considerations
Any time we participate, some has to plan it first!
These are the basic ingredients you just can’t do without:
How will people know they’re invited? An invitation is the first impression and signal that lets people know they can be involved. It can be formal – maybe written, embossed, with RSVP, informal – like a well advertised happy hour, or even instinctive – a shining button, an open door.
An invitation does not guarantee that participants will attend or take part. What’s the reason why someone would want to be a part of your experience? What’s more – how do you make it irresistible to join? The starting point is to know the audience, identifying specific people or groups of people, understanding their personal characteristics and motivations to take part in the experience on offer.
Every game has them. Every social situation has some protocol, even if it’s casual. Rules provide a structure for comfortable engagement without limiting creativity or freedom. Whether implicit or explicit, flexible or rigid, rules let people know what’s going on and how it works. When rules are communicated clearly, guests and audiences can be more at ease. Even more – if you disclose openly why you’re asking people to participate, they’re more often likely to respond in a similar open, meaningful way.
Any time you’ve asked someone to do something, what then? Feedback mechanisms let people know that what they’ve done has caused a relevant impact. The role of feedback can be to reward, confirm or augment the participants’ actions – sometimes it’s just a ‘thank you’. Ultimately feedback can lead to a ‘bigger picture’ which lets people understand what the collective effort is all about.
Now that we’ve got the basics covered, there are other considerations which are also important but variable:
The experience can happen over seconds, hours, days, years. The level of engagement should be appropriate to the length of time. Revealing (or concealing) elements over time also provides a way to play with suspense and surprise.
A feedback mechanism that creates a visible and durable trace of participation not only rewards participants, but also inspires others. Often, traces left behind of participants’ actions make up the ‘bigger picture’ and let people understand what the collective effort is all about.
People are more likely to show interest, believe in or want to contribute when they understand there is a genuine interest in their participation. This is kind of like the golden rule, the ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ rule. If participation feels like a fair exchange, people are more likely to participate and come back again.
Whatever goal you want to achieve or message to convey, how do you get people to want to do it? Try making it fun. It’s a very powerful tool which makes even the most painful tasks seem easy.
What media will help deliver the experience? Wireless networks, buttons and sensors can create magic and make things simple, however interactivity does not necessitate the use of technology – it depends on the aim of what you want people to do.
How much of it do we share?
How much do we want the unexpected to happen?
Expecting the unexpected
Where do we talk about the weather? Subversion? Anticipating those things which may suddenly appear and affect the project outcome.
Smelling, tasting, feeling, pushing, pulling, dancing – encouraging a greater connection and making the experience more personal and tangible.
These considerations are handy, but not always part of the equation:
Stories are more effective and emotions are triggered when there’s magic to take people out of the norm. Fantasy, magic and mystery can be created by just being clever about how you reveal or conceal something ordinary.
Rules can be intuitive – without needing to say anything and people know what to do.
When things are free, this could provide incentive, it can break down barriers. You get what you pay for, and you expect a certain standard for what you pay! People behave differently when they pay for something and when they don’t. Paying means you expect to get your money’s worth. And if you pay for a ticket, you’re much more likely to show up.
This list is not exhaustive, we’re always adding to it, these are other considerations that have come up lately. What else would you add?