Blog > Bodystorming rocks

August 26, 2011

I had a chance to use bodystorming with a group this week. Bodystorming is like brainstorming on steroids – or, in other words, it recognises that we bring more than just our brains to problem solving sessions.

Bodystorming involves some traditional brainstorming with three key differences that I think make all the difference.

The first is context. In bodystorming, place is important. Where is the interaction happening? Who is there? What are they doing? How are they reacting?

The second is point of view. Bodystorming takes the POV of the person using the product or the service. This seemingly simple shift can change everything. Questions shift from : “How do we change people’s behaviour/opinion/thoughts about x?” to “What’s this about?” “Why should I read this?” etc

And the third (and why it’s called bodystorming) is the enacting of various scenarios to see what happens (still from the  perspective of the user). And objects are personified – and can interact with the humans in the scene.

And what happens – even in a short session of bodystorming – is trial and error, rapid insight, getting to depth quickly, and hence new ideas emerge.

Here’s the process I used. You can probably divide the process into three key parts: identifying the design question is part 1; enacting scenarios is part 2; and then sharing insights and deciding what to follow-up. These are my own notes on bodystorming based on my own experience. This session lasted two hours and, I think, would be the minimum time you would allow for a bodystorming session. Ideally, you would allow a full day.

1. Introduction to the topic (with preferably some observation by participants in advance) and a little bit about bodystorming. I put up a poster of principles (more to remind me what to say than for anything else!) 

2. Break into groups of 5 – 8 people. Ask them to discuss and list what they notice about ‘x’. Reinforce that this phase is just about observation. No judgments. And no solutions.

3. Then ask them to identify the issues from the point of view of the users.

4. Then ask each group to select a specific design question to further explore. If it’s too big, break it down. The design question also needs to be place-based. This provides some context and avoids abstraction.

5. Then introduce the roles and enacting scenarios. Roles can be people, places, and objects. Each person needs a clear label to identify who or what they are. Objects can speak, interact, and have opinions. There needs to be one narrator – that’s the term that bodystormers use. I think the term director might be better. The narrator/director provides direction for the players, can move the scene along, freeze it, rewind, stop it, start over, make suggestions and generally provides some structure so that each enactment doesn’t descend into everyone doing their own thing with no regard to the others in the scene. There’s also emotion cards to be prepared (before enacting a scene and during). These cards are held above the heads of the players and say what they are thinking, but not saying.

6. Enacting scenes. Give the groups time to warm up to this. They will start very wordy and may need to be encouraged to move around and actually play a scene. Encourage rapid trying something, stopping it, tweaking it, and trying it again. Remind objects that they can interact, respond, have thoughts etc.

NB: I had each group simply playing scenes for themselves. If there was time and the group was up for it, you could have each sub-group play a scene(s) for the whole group. This would, of course, place more pressure on people, and it would provide a greater depth of understanding amongst the whole group. On the downside it would take a lot longer, and people may feel inhibited acting in front of their peers.

One of the key principles that’s important to bodystorming is ‘Yes, and…’ If people spend time arguing over what might or might not be a useful thing to try, they will never leave their heads and experience the benefits of bodystorming. Taking a ‘yes, and…’ attitude instead of the often-times more familiar ‘yes, but…’ approach ensures rapid prototyping or testing of ideas with the opportunity to throw out those that don’t work and maybe be surprised and delighted by what does.

7. Summarise insights and identify what could be followed up.

Bodystorming appeals as a process because it combines real-world experiences and observations with actual problems to be solved, in a way that takes into account the experiences of the users, and provides insight and ideas by acting out what happens.  It draws on, but doesn’t rely on, principles of improv, action methods, and psycho-drama – and while some exposure to these might be useful, it seems to me that anyone can do bodystorming with a bit of encouragement.

HT Harriet Wakelam and CPX Melbourne for introducing me to bodystorming.

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