Role Play


  • To build knowledge and understanding about unfamiliar circumstances.
  • To develop empathy.
  • To test a prototype or idea.
  • To make difficult concepts explicit and share them with others.
  • To surface assumptions, beliefs, values.


As a research tool, role-play is a powerful and often scary activity. The value of a good role-play is connected to the perceived risk many feel when they do it. Role-play takes us out of our comfort zone and asks us to behave in unfamiliar ways. In the process, we often come face to face with fears, stereotypes, assumptions and fallacies.

In contrast, when prototyping, role-play allows design teams to try out ideas in a very safe way, because the situation is just “pretend”. Ideas can be quickly revised and tested again and again this way, at little or no cost.


  • People may feel at risk when asked to “perform” in front of others. Be sure to set this exercise up in a “safe” environment and debrief it with sensitivity.
  • Recording role-play with a video camera allows review, analysis and sharing.
  • Encourage team members to take on an extreme role, as this maximizes learning and discovery potential.
  • Play many different roles.
  • Try introducing unusual props during the role-play, to generate novel ideas/responses.
  • Encourage participants to adapt roles as they get new ideas.