IA Summit: Game Changing

by Luke Wroblewski March 24, 2006

Jess McMullin’s Game Changing: How You Can Transform Client Mindsets Through Play presentation at IA Summit 2006 presented some ideas for building strategic rapport with clients by utilizing the underlying principles of game play.

Designers have been working to build strategic influence in companies by learning the language (gaining fluency) and concepts (ROI,NPV, etc.) that drive business. They’ve also worked to become versed in cultural fluency: politics, organization charts, and how to get things done. Yet the question remains: how can we mature the perception of design at the organizations we work with?

In particular, Jess described moving companies from no consciousness design to design as style to an understanding of design of function & form to using design for problem solving to employing design thinking to frame (look at differently) problems. Framing is valuable to business because it allows you to redefine problem space you are working in.

In order to work at this level, designers need fluent conversation skills (in business language, concepts, and culture) and the ability to generate shared references between design and business. Design artifacts, though powerful, often aren’t enough to resonate deeply with the team- we need better shared references to enable intelligent conversations that help the business side of the team see things in a different light. This is where the concepts behind gaming can be helpful.

By playing a game together, you can create a shared experience: a shared story. Games have objectives, constraints, outcomes, and often competition. Group activities with these attributes can change attitudes and affect entrenched mindsets. Jess outlined three approaches to bringing game play into the equation:

  • Modify activities for play using one of the above attributes of gaming
  • Use existing games
  • Create new games

In each of these examples, avoid using the phrase “let’s play a game.” Consider terms like: innovation, collaboration, brainstorming, and participatory design. For example, “we're going to work through a live case study” or “let’s work with innovation tools to enhance the productivity of our brainstorming sessions”.

A few examples of gaming to build strategic rapport:

  • Think of the box design of our product: print it out; design the front and back. Let the end result frame the conversation about the product.
  • Improvisation exercises to open up and build teamwork.
  • Better ways of brainstorming; keep track of ideas and vote on them