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Engaging Potential Users in the Design of Future
Mobile Communication Systems
Laboratory of Information Processing Science, Helsinki University of Technology A b s t r a c t . When designing new interactive systems traditional ways of
getting responses from potential users seem ineffective. The design faces
the challenges of dealing with non-existing products and with future life
practices that may be different from the current ones. We believe that co-
designing with users helps tackle these problems. The paper aims at discuss-
ing previous forms of engaging with users in design to learn lessons on how
to develop effective methods in the case of the design of future mobile serv-
ices. Role-playing games is presented as one possible method to get valu-
able and deep contributions from potential users helping the designers pro-
jecting ideas in the future.
1 Introduction
When designing future interactive systems the design interests a future situation and anon-existent product. This implies that traditional requirement elicitation techniques[1] seem to be ineffective [2] as they were developed for products like desktop applica-tion in the workplace.
In our project, we design future mobile services. The aim is to develop a nomadic computing infrastructure for a University Campus, where the students are the mainuser group targeted by the design. Designing for mobility is particularly complex forseveral reasons. Users use services while on the move and change context. Moreover,there appears to be no clear boundary between work and personal practices and thecomplexity is augmented by the influence on personal technologies of lifestyle andsocial behavior. All these aspects contribute to augment the complexity of the re-quirement gathering. We believe that the complexity can be reduced by pursuing activeuser engagement. The challenge is finding ways to gather deep and qualitative contri-bution from users to balance the loss of results from the traditional requirement gath-ering. The paper aims at discussing previous forms of engaging with users in designto learn lessons on how to develop effective methods in the case of the design of fu-ture mobile services. We have developed role-playing games as one possible method.
Basing on this experience, we discuss user engagement in the case of designing mo-bile services.
Chapter 2 describes related work, from which lessons can be learned about develop- ing methods for user engagement. Paragraph 2.1 introduces Participatory Design (PD),as the field of research that develops approaches and techniques for involving users indesign with the aim of empowering them. Paragraph 2.2 is dedicated to defining whatearly adopters and lead-users are, and how companies are co-designing with them.
Paragraph 2.3 exemplifies the current related research in the development of FocusTroupe a method aimed at getting deep contribution from potential users throughplayacting. Chapter 3 introduces the work done in GO designing future mobile serv-ices. Paragraph 3.2 reports of role-playing games as a technique developed to engagepotential users in design.
In Chapter 4, paragraph 4.1 discusses the particular challenges posed by mobility to design. User participation and games are presented as appropriate methods to reducethe complexity. Paragraph 4.2 highlights differences to our perspective of the exam-ples reported in chapter 2 and what we can learn from them. Finally, in paragraph 4.3we propose some candidate requirements for user participation to be successful.
2 Roots of User Involvement and Current Trends and
Research

2.1 Participatory Design
Participatory Design (PD) has been the first example of active user involvement in thedesign and introduction of computer systems. PD originated in Scandinavia in the70ies, where it is now promoted in law and accepted work practices. PD has spreadworldwide (since 1990 there is a PD conference, which is held together with theCSCW), and triggered the birth of similar movements like Cooperative Design inEurope or Joint Application Development (JAD) [3] in US. PD has influenced severalresearch fields encouraging user participation in design beyond user centered ap-proaches (for example: the Computer Supported Cooperative Work CSCW, Informa-tion System IS, and HCI fields). The continuos and fruitful dialogue between PD andthe mentioned fields regards mainly the design of systems in the workplace For theCSCW field the dialogue is visible in researchers, which are active in both fields [4].
The Scandinavian model suggests that ".the process by which new office equip- ment is introduced should be fundamentally democratic. Many problems in relation tothe introduction of office automation are related to the fact that experts are designingsomething for others to use. This means that the role of computer experts ought to bechanged to a consultation role and that user should be given the necessary educationalbackground for analyzing their needs, evaluating the technology and specifying therequirements based on explicitly formulated alternatives."[5] T a b l e 1 . Contrasting approaches [6]
PD is a philosophy, which encompasses the whole design cycle. It aims at em- powering users to give them voice in the design process. One of the motivations isthat users are domain experts and they know best about their activities. Moreover, PDassumes that computers should augment user skills by giving them appropriate toolsas opposed to automating the task [7]. The introduction of a new system is liable tochange the work context and organizational processes, and will only be accepted ifthese changes are acceptable to the user. Past research shows how the introductionprocess is difficult to anticipate [8, 9] and open-ended [10]. PD is therefore design inthe workplace, incorporating the user not only as an experimental subject but also as amember of the design team.
In the last two decades PD has developed several approaches and dozens of tech- niques. We present here briefly the work by Ehn and Sjögren [11] in using games fordesign, because it influenced our research. Their objective in using games "is neitherto encourage competition nor to teach a theory from above, but support situated andshared action and reflection." (p. 254) Moreover, games are a way to "create a commonlanguage, to discuss the existing reality, to investigate future visions, and to makerequirement specifications on aspects of work organization, technology and education."(p. 252) In their work, Ehn and Sjögren [11] present different games. We discuss herethe first two: a game of the late '70 in the woodlands of Scandinavia and a game usedfor design of Desktop Publishing. The game was organized to explore the effects ofdifferent business strategies for the design of technology and organization. Three de-sign games were used to develop an action program for changes in their workplaces:Carpentrypoly (a game similar to monopoly), the Layout Kit, and the SpecificationGame. The Layout Kit consists of a collection of cards representing machines andaccessories. The cards were used on a large sheet to lay out existing shops, identifyproblems, and sketch new alternatives supported by a shared understanding. Carpentry-poly was used to investigate market relations and business strategies. The results fromthe first two games were later structured in the Specification game.
The dramatic design context of the Desktop Publishing Game was based on six concepts. The Playground is the subjective and negotiated interpretation of the con-text. The professional roles were in role scripts. The situation cards are examples ofbreakdown situation. Commitments as actions made by players in relation to situa-tion cards. Conditions for these commitments are negotiated, and an action plan for-mulated. These concepts were used through four steps: Prologue where the game is explained and playground designed. The first Act is a session in which, situation areplayed and commitments made under certain conditions. The Second Act is based onan updated playground where work with real publication is played. The third Actbrings back to reality the participants with a formulation of an action plan for negotia-tion with surrounding organization.
2.2 Co-designing, Lead Users, and Early Adopters
Co-designing with users has being experiment in the industry in several forms. Par-ticular customer categories like lead users or early adopters have been involved indesigning new products. Unfortunately, these experiences are not well documented likethe one of the PD tradition. In this chapter, we shall discuss what early adopters andlead users are. Moreover, Beta-testing is described as a method used by software com-panies to sense and respond to the market by co-developing with communities ofusers.
F i g . 1 . change in customers as technology matures adapted from [13]
Previous studies on diffusion of innovative ideas and product in society have at- tempted a simplistic classification, which divides target customers into five categories:innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. The innovatorsand early adopters usually drive the technology. The remaining categories, which constitute the majority of the market, wait for a safe adoption, demanding conven-ience, ease of use, and reliability. According to Moore [12], there is a chasm betweenthese two kinds of adopters. On each side of the chasm, different priorities are attachedto the characteristic of the product.
In the first side, the early adopters are called into play and they concentrate on tech- nological superiority and novelty. Those people will buy regardless of the complexityor other difficulties just to be on the cutting edge. The success factor here is to providewith the product the right capabilities. Early adopters are important because they helpestablish a market [13]. On the other side of the chasm the market develops, competi-tion arises, the technology matures, and quality improves. Here the conservative lateadopters are more relevant and they seek reliability and simplicity. The ease of use ismuch more relevant in this phase. As the technology matures the novelty decreasesand other aspects become important like reliability, maintenance, and cost.
The lesson that leading companies take from this model [14] is that the main con- cept of a new service or product should be inspired or tested by the early adopters. Theearly and late majority, on the other hand, should determine refinements for the re-maining aspects.
There are certainly several interpretations of lead-users. One sees Lead Users as con- sumers with a passionate interest in a given product making them good candidates toexplore future developments of the product. In other words: "For any product fieldthere is a group of consumers who are passionately interested in it, actively seek allthey can to read about it and whose attitudes and behaviour consequently change inadvance of the general trend." These people are lead users or "future featurers" [15].
The idea is that "the future exists in the present", it may be found by talking to con-sumers with an active interest that are dissatisfied with the current offer and are search-ing for something better. They may help identify previously unarticulated needs orunserved consumer populations. Their participation and engagement is driven by theirinterests and in the project they set their own agenda based upon their own views andexperiences as consumers in the real world. Lead users sometimes join the team as"consumer consultants and advisors on the development of the creative brief and itsexecution—they are the R&D department living in the real world".
An example from the software industries is the beta testing. For example, Micro- soft made a beta version available of Windows 95 to thousands of its customers, creat-ing a community that helped the Microsoft developers offer an operating system thathad maximal value for them [16]. Another example is Netscape's development proc-ess, which is characterized by the early releases of a product to interested users, longbefore product features have been established. The product is developed through severalbeta versions, while a customer base helps the software evolve into a product ready forgeneral release [17].
The next paragraph will introduce Focus Troupe, a technique under development to collect deep contribution and responses from potential users through drama.
2 . 3 Related Research: Focus Troupe
"The idea of focus troupe is to use performance to elicit contextually relevant, person-ally experiential user feedback for products that do not yet exists." [18] Traditionalmarketing technique as focus groups, surveys, are of limited for products that do notyet exists because the customer has yet no experience. In Focus Troupe, dramaticvignettes are presented to an audience of potential customers. The product concept isfeatured like a prop or dramatic element in a familiar situation adapted to the newinvention. The audience of potential customer can contribute with relevant comments,engaging in several conversations about the concept armed with a full understanding ofthe implications, operations and expectations of what the product would do. A focusgroup session lasts 2 hours [2]. About 20 people seat around tables forming groups of4 to five members. A moderator introduces the context of the dramatic vignette thatwill follow. The first dramatic vignette is shown, featuring the new product concept ina familiar scenario derived from the ethnographic work. The audience participates in aconversation structured by the De Bono's "Six Hat" concept [19], which breaks aconversation in to parts according to the type of comment. Focus Troupes differ fromFocus group because of the live performance. Moreover, live actors enable a variety ofpotential interactions with the audience.
The designers of the product concepts are present at the focus troupe to answer questions from the audience and help keep the discussion on a productive track. Theresult of the session is a set of comments and conversations about the product conceptin the context of the vignette and in the life of the participants. The comments explainreason why the concept does or does not fit in their lives. The focus troupe openedideas for techniques involving the audience with deeper interaction. This possibilitieswhere investigated in a workshop at the Participatory Design Conference [20]. Thetechniques envisioned would involve performing quick, intense, immersive, and en-gaging activities focused on developing a shared context of use against which end-userevaluations will make sense. The workshop developed a framework with two distinc-tions: • The sessions can be explorative if the product concept is rough and evaluative if • Professional actors can act or participants themselves.
Audience participation in the performance create an intense and engaging perform- ance, by letting the participants experience the new concept more actively, and bygetting them invested in co-creation. Improvisation exercises are designed to let thepotential users co-create the new product concept and the context.
3 An Example from GO: Engaging Users in Games
3 . 1 GO Project Description
The research is carried out in GO PROD (Product Concepts and User Aspects) a sub-project of GO at the Helsinki University of Technology. The objective of the GOProject is to develop a nomadic computing infrastructure for the campus and to createa vision of the future mobile communications. One of GO PROD objectives is thedevelopment of use scenarios and prototypes of services and products as seen by theend users. Concept development is carried out studying user groups in iterative cycles.
As students populate the campus, they constitute the main user group. The cyclesinclude information gathering (user study and current products), generation of con-cepts, validation and refinement. The role games have been chosen as one of the ac-tivities to involve potential users (students) actively in the generation of concepts.
3 . 2 Engaging Potential users with role-playing
We developed in GO role-playing games as a technique through 5 game sessions (fordetails also of games outcomes see [21]). As the game settings were all different, wefirst give a general description of game attributes and then we will discuss the 5thgame in detail. The basic principle of our games is to let participants play roles or actas themselves in given situations. The situations and the roles are either taken fromthe user studies or invented. The players imagine what kind of devices or servicescould support their mobility and communication, discuss, and act out the ideas in thegiven situation. Such a game can be organized in different ways. The number of theplayers or group size varied from 3 to 7 participants. The Story structure was alsovarying in the games according to the presence of the following: initial scenario orsituation, plot or event lists, incidents, roles and goals of players. In other words, thegroup interaction can be organized around an initial scenario letting the players free toimprovise, or can be influenced by predefined information.
Inspired by the role games (like Dungeons and Dragons) in some of the games we introduced the game master. The master guides the unfolding of the game introducingincidents and deciding who plays. As in the role games (like Dungeons and Dragons),the master is the interface to the environment representing the world with its opportu-nities and constraints. In this way, a designer has a direct influence in the game'sunfolding.
Game rules were also different in all games. In some games the group interaction was improvised and not guided by rules. In other games, rules defined the order forplayers to speak or act; how ideas are developed in teams, in group or individually;when to throw the dice; to pick up a card with an unexpected incident.
Environment and toys were present with different levels of advance preparation in the games. Each game situation was situated either in the present or in the futureaccording to our objective towards understanding current operation and problems or initiating a very innovative atmosphere. Each session was opened by an introductionto state goals and to inform the players with game material. All the games lasted from1:30 to 2:00 (including also 10-20 min introduction). The time is not considered to beone of the variables in the game design.
After five different games approaches we decided to invest more time in the prepara- tion of the sixth game. We decided to prepare a more detailed environment and tointroduce tools and rules to help the players to act out their ideas.
We designed the game for five participants. Three users were the actual players and the two designers of the game played side roles. They were not contributing to thedevelopment of the product ideas but helping to keep action in the game. One designerwas also acting as game master monitoring the game and seeing that the rules wherefollowed.
As to the contexts and environment, we prepared five different places that players would probably visit with their toy characters during the game. The places were pre-pared around the room on bookshelf and tables. Some of the places contained roomsand other facilities to reflect the function of the place. In the central table a street mapconnected all the places and was also filled with toys such as bus, taxi cars, bus stops,devices, toy characters and many other little toys. Each place had a printed sign show-ing its name and a graphical symbol and was filled with as many contextual character-istics (artifacts) as possible.
We prepared an event list for the players to go through during the game. We hanged the list on the wall to help players be aware of passing time and planning how tocarry out all the events within the playtime. We had a box with incident cards to in-troduce some surprises and dynamism to the game. During the game, the master couldask one player to pick up a card describing an upcoming incident. There was an initialplan on the timing of the incidents, however, it was varied according the unfolding ofthe game. To improve usage of toy objects and help players to be innovative, we hada magic box containing different toys and inspiring objects like glasses, gloves etc. Amicro magic box contained inspiring objects of the size of the toy characters.
The following rules were also hanging on the wall:1. Use always the toy character2. Act the use of the device/service3. Use of dice to decide about not predefined aspects4. Everyone chooses an toy character and picks a "mobic" a mock-up representing 5. Now and then a player is asked to pick an incident card6. The most creative player wins a bottle of wineInstead of loosing time in long explanations, after a brief introduction the two de- signers played a little game of five minutes showing all the game rules and tools.
This would not only effectively explain the game but also encourage the players inacting and using the toys. The game unfolded successfully meeting our expectations.
The players were acting through their toy character moving around in the differentplaces. The environment helped the players being context aware. In several occasions,it helped the players in considering which artifacts might be part of the environment.
It helped the players throughout the game to be aware of when they where changing the context. Moreover, the players were aware of the activities and contexts of theothers. The magic boxes provided two times inspiration when players picked objectsfrom them. The dice was thrown six times providing an additional game elements andfun for the players. The game was the most productive with ten different ideas actedout in scenarios. The action in the game was kept going thanks to 7 incident cards.
During their side roles, the designers could also improvise. One of the designer im-provised an incident that led to a new product concept and scenario proposed by one ofthe players. As the designers were playing side roles, they could help the rest of theplayer to win inhibition in the game by giving examples of how to use the toys. Thegame showed the importance of a fluent flow of the story and stimulating setting thatallows the players to be living their roles in a inspiring and innovative atmosphere.
Finally, the game provided support for a shared understanding of the scenarios andmade the player context aware and aware of other's contexts and activities.
4 Discussion
4 . 1 Challenges Posed by Mobility
There are several reasons why designing future system to support mobility is particu-larly complex. Firstly, previous studies [22] show that designing mobile cooperativesystems requires new way of understanding work and life practices. To explore mobil-ity, one has to understand "activities in which people engage, with others, when theyare mobile, and how various tools and artifacts, feature in those activities" [22]. Sec-ondly, users use services while on the move changing context. Thirdly, there appearsto be no clear boundary between work and personal practices and the complexity isaugmented by the influence on personal technologies of lifestyle and social behavior[14]. All these aspects contribute to augment the complexity of the requirement gath-ering. We believe that the complexity can be reduced by pursuing active user engage-ment.
In another work we explained how games help overcome part of the complexity by providing a way of visualizing mobility of users, various contexts, activities and the
group interaction [21]. But why should potential users participate in the game? With
the words of Norman "…technologies offer new opportunities for creative, interactive
experiences and, in particular… But these new opportunities will come to pass only if
control of the technology is taken from the technologists and given to those who
understands human beings, human interaction, communication, pleasure, and pain."
There is a solid reason for involving user more actively. Designer of interactive sys-
tem have long acknowledged the need for the design to switch the focus from the
product to the use. The design of a system is nowadays the design of an activity or of
an experience to be delivered to the user [23]. In concept development of interactive
systems the aim is n o t a product model but a model of the human-computer activity
[29]. In designing future activities and experiences for users, the design does not cope
only with technological and business aspects. There is a sphere of issues (psychologi-
cal, social, organizational, and cultural), which we can call human aspects, that do not
seem to be reducible by rational methods (especially if we consider non-existing prod-
uct and future situation.). The design team can cope with these human aspects first
through its multidisciplinary members (sociologist, anthropologists, psychologists,
artists…), and secondly through user engagement. The users are the best way to repre-
sent their own human aspects and to project them in the future.
Why turn to game, role playing and theater? Scenarios have been recognized as the
right way to represent design issues and ideas, as they situate the system in its use and
provide rich information of the context [24]. Scenarios provide a common language
for all stakeholders in the design activities. This facilitates the cooperation with users,
considered a privileged way to inform design [25]. In conclusion games, role-playing
and theater are appropriate to co-design with users because they speak the "language of
scenarios".
4.2 Lesson Learned from Related Research
What can we learn from PD? There is a fundamental difference in perspectives
between the PD research and the research objective presented above. In PD projects,
which deal generally with change in workplace, the users are important stakeholders in
the design process because they are the actual users of the future systems. Whereas, in
our case, the users will not have to use the system in their daily work, they are
potential users of mobile communication systems to support not only work but also
every activity in their life. The motivation for their involvement is of a different kind,
is not determined by the need of empowering them for democratization. Nevertheless,
a great deal can be learned from the PD movement, which have developed successful
approaches (for example the MUST approach [26]) and techniques [27] in more that 10
years of international research.
The PD literature provides us with a well documented example of designing by playing. The work of Ehn and Sjörgen [11] helped us in understanding games as a wayto create a common language in design (their approach is influenced by the languagegames of Wittgenstein). This implies that a requirement for successful participation isfinding a method that supports a common language. For the students the role-playinggames were an appropriate method, in fact some of the students had been playing as ahobby before (games like Dungeons and Dragons). Moreover, the work of Ehn andSjörgen [11] provided us with some ideas for organizing the games. Examples are therole scripts, the playground (in our games the situation), the situation card (the inci-dent cards), the lay-out (maps and environment). Our perspective differs from the par-ticipatory design games because we deal with potential users and we do not attach todesign political meanings (for example democracy in the workplace). Moreover, weresearch benefits of games for the special case of design for systems supporting mobil-ity. Finally in our projects, we are not constrained by the work boundaries but wedesign devices and services also for personal use or entertainment.
What can we learn from practices with lead-users. The concept of lead-
users is important because it points to the fact that there are users more interested than
others. The interest eases the participation of the users posing fewer problems in
trying to develop mechanisms to engage them. Moreover, lead users and early adopters
are crucial milestones for the acceptance of products, they help establishing a market.
On the other, according to Norman not all aspects of the product can be shaped with
these categories of users alone. The early and late majority is important to shape
characteristics as ease of use, quality and refinements. Nevertheless, when approaching
a target user group like the students this framework helps in choosing the users
consciously. The lesson to be learned from experiences like Beta testing are in being
able to establish community of users that have active part in shaping the technology
and that already constitute a customer base before the product is offered. Related
issues, where brought up in the Computer Supported Cooperative Work CSCW
research field. For example whether a critical mass of users exists and how large it is,
and whether key users exist, whose usage of the system, will persuade or even force
others to use the system as well [28].
What can we learn from Focus Troupe. Focus Troupe is a very good example
of how designers dealing with future products seek potential customer contributions.
The participation of the audience (users) has only been suggested yet and is now being
investigated. Theater techniques seem very effective to help designers validate and
refine a concept. In our project, the role playing games were generative but also
validating methods. That means that as soon as ideas and concepts were generated they
were acted out in the game environment, which helped validating and refining them.
In conclusion like the authors of Focus Troupe we recognize the great potential offered
by this type of techniques especially in the validation and refinement phase.
4 . 3 Requirements for a Successful User Contribution
What are the requirements for a successful user contribution? Although we are at thebeginning of the research and the answer to this question is considered a long termresearch objective we can mention potential candidates. According to Russell Ackoff[11], who used games in the practice of social system design, for participation indesign to be successful, it requires that:1. It makes a difference for the participants2. Implementation of the results are likely3. It is fun to participate.
We agree with these three requirements, and we would like to suggest another im- portant one. The methods should provide a common language for all participants. Thelanguage should be such that users feel confident when participating.
In the case of GO, the students are the main user group. The second point, whether the implementation of the results is likely, is assured by the objectives of the project,which aims at implementing the services that are designed. The first point, whether it makes a difference for the participants, depends partly on how the concepts developedare able to support current practices or create new interesting ones. The third, whetherit is fun to participate depends on the methods itself and who participates. Finally thelanguage also depends on the method. In the case of role-playing games in game wemanaged to fulfill this requirement.
5 Conclusion
The paper suggest that one way to cope with the high complexity of designing futuremobile services is to engage potential users actively in design. There are severalthings to be learned from the experiences in both the industry and in the PD tradition.
As we have shown in the paper, users have been involved in design in many ways. Afirst observation is that in the business world experiences tend to concentrate on vali-dating and refining activities. In the PD tradition, users have been part also of genera-tive activities like Future Workshops [6,7]. In the GO project the participation ofusers (students) can be organized learning from all these examples. The PD traditionprovides design approaches where the user participation is through the whole process.
Moreover PD research has been developing dozen of techniques that provide inspira-tion for developing new one to be adapted to the case of designing for mobility. Thelimitation is in the different objectives of the PD movement, which are of politicalnature.
Experiences from product development in company point to the fact that different customer categories can help shape different aspects of a product. Moreover practiceslike beta testing show the potential hidden in the creation of community of usersduring the development that form customer bases for the later acceptance of the fin-ished product.
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29. Laurel, B. (1993), Computer as Theater, Addison Wesley, 1993.

Source: http://www.cs.hut.fi/~mam/iacucci.pdf

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