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Role-Playing & Wrapping Up

Aaron Howes
7 min readApr 21, 2021

For our final crit, Graeme, Jonathan, Nicolai and I chose to role-play a live news segment based on our Library of Human Experiences concept. For this final workbook entry, I want to explain how we came upon that idea and developed it. I also want to respond to a question that Alex asked as part of his feedback that we came away feeling we disappointingly defended ourselves against rather than engaging with.

Something I mentioned in my self-assessment submission was feeling like we’d done a pretty good job of the mid-term crit and this ironically demotivating us in terms of pushing our idea further. However, having had a good response from Alex and the class, we also felt the need to top what had come before. Or at least do something different. We’d done a traditional presentation well, how could we take a unique approach that would explore creativity as part of our design process and as an output?

Having enjoyed making a video and role-playing characters once already, we decided we could take this further and create a full ten-minute video or act something out live. Previously, video-making had allowed us to explore storytelling as part of a design process and, as discussed in my Cities & Stories entry, think about how cities are webs of interwoven stories rather than their physical structures and geographies. Role-playing had helped us to understand how our design choices may affect both the city and individuals by having us embody potential citizens. In my Video-Making entry, I described this as like taking on a design persona where we didn’t just take the users perspective, we became them.

Around week eight, the group decided we would role-play live. I tried not to show it and went with it, but I was pretty nervous about doing it live. I feel uncomfortable speaking in front of large groups and don’t consider myself a good public speaker at all. But I like to push myself outside my comfort zone and I knew this would be a good opportunity to practice a skill that needed work.

By this point, the Library of Human Experiences was a place and service that citizens would visit to experience the experiences of others in hope of eliciting more empathy between them. We considered this being a virtual reality experience, or something more futuristic, but kept the details indistinct at Alex’s recommendation. Instead, I wrote up a business-like “About” and “Purpose” to explain what impact these would have on citizens and the city:


We are the United Kingdom’s archive. We generate the world’s most comprehensive collection of human experiences and provide access to all.

Our collection — the cornerstone of London’s Knowledge Quarter — includes over two million experiences and we add around 100,000 new items every year.

Our groundbreaking technology lets people live these experiences as if they were their own.


Custodianship: We build and preserve the UK’s national collection of human experiences.

Research: We support and inspire research of every kind.

Education: We enable learners of all ages and backgrounds.

Culture: We engage humanity with fundamental cultural experiences.

International: We work with partners worldwide to advance knowledge and mutual understanding.

Business: We help businesses to innovate and grow.

These were based on the existing principles and purpose behind The British Library, for which this would be a future parallel.

To script the role-play, we started by referring back to the five-year timeline I included at the end of my Cities & Stories entry to decide which parts of the timeline we could focus on and which ideas from it we could include in our performance. We felt either a fictional news segment or panel talk would be the ideal format for the stories we wanted to portray and feasibility over Zoom. From there, we created a new ten-minute timeline representing approximately the time we would have during the crit and pinpointed key moments and talking points.

With the timeline roughly outlining what each of us would be discussing minute by minute, we went away and individually immersed ourselves in our characters in order to write our scripts. Having originally conceived the idea, I took on the role of CEO and founder of the Library of Human Experiences. Intriguingly, everyone else also took on a character that in one way or another reflected the role they’d played in the group. Johnathan had been a discerning mediator and sage; he took on the role of the news host. Graeme had frequently explored satire as a form of critique and provocation; he played a reformed criminal turned rapper. Nicolai had at times been sceptical of the library and our focus on empathy — he played a community leader and activist questioning the library’s new role in society. Another route, and one I’d like to explore if role-playing as part of a design process in future, would have been to play characters totally unlike the roles we’d played in the group to give us a chance to embody a different perspective.

Having drafted individual scripts, we met as a group for a read-through. We went once through without stopping to gauge how long it would take before going through many times more to make script edits. I quickly found my script was too formal and unlike speech, so edited each portion down to bullet points that would keep my parts structured but allow them to be more flexible. To make the story more compelling and help us embody the characters, we each dressed the part and changed our virtual Zoom backgrounds to match who we were playing.

I felt the performance went well in that we didn’t mess anything up or have any technical glitches, and the class responded positively. Alex and Axel seemed to enjoy the approach and us having done something unique, even slightly risky. However, Alex did ask a question as part of his feedback that we didn’t do a good job of answering. Instead of engaging with the question, we defended our choice of medium. I think naturally we felt on the spot and didn’t have an immediate answer, but we should’ve taken more time to think about it. While I don’t remember Alex’s exact words, he asked something along the lines of, what was lost in taking this approach?

At the time, my main response was that we’d not been able to show our process and how we’d progressed from mid-term to the end of term. During the mid-term crit, although we’d developed the idea for the Library of Human Experiences quite far, we only teased it and didn’t show it in full, focusing more on process. This choice was down to how we’d interpreted Alex’s guidance which we felt suggested we should talk more about the process and how we’d come to focus on a particular design space. But in the final crit, for better or worse, we abandoned discussing our process altogether which meant our path from mid-term to then wasn’t clear. Like process, we also didn’t present our thinking behind the idea, why we’d chosen it and why we thought it was an interesting design space. We’d done some of this in our mid-term crit but could’ve gone into more depth with another traditional presentation.

Another trade-off was that we relied heavily on our characters and their scripts as storytelling devices and design artefacts. In a sense, these became our primary design outcomes, or at least the ones people got to see. By going all-in on the role play, we didn’t show any mock-ups of what the Library might look like or how it might afford interaction. Yet, we’d also designed pamphlets and forms, the frontpage of a newspaper and the social media posts shown in Image-Making. Beyond the performance itself, we didn’t show much else that had resulted from our work. Perhaps we could’ve found ways to have incorporated more of what we’d made into our performance like we did Graeme’s music video.

I guess we should question then whether the performance might have been fun at the expense of informative? Or productive from the perspective of presenting Alex and Axel a full spectrum of our work. Looking back at the script, I think we did a good job of selecting characters that allowed us to introduce the idea before exploring both its potential positive and negative consequences. However, it would be interesting to ask other students not just whether they liked the performance but what they understood about our vision for the smart city based on it.

Looking back, I feel empathy within the city was a rich space to explore. There certainly appears to be a growing gulf between people not just within cities but worldwide, often exacerbated by technology that has only existed at scale within the last ten years. I haven’t focused too much on that because really that would be falling back into the habit of problem-solving, which we’re trying to avoid. Nonetheless, it’s a worthy contemporary critique within our concept.

Storytelling and role-play were also interesting techniques that I’m glad we got to play with and I’m excited to explore more as part of the design process in future. Nothing else has helped me to take a user-centred perspective quite like it. As I reflected on in my self-assessment, and as was apparent following Alex’s feedback, perhaps our approach led to us missing things in the second half of term. And I could’ve done more to have stayed motivated in pushing our concept further. I try to recognise I’ll never get anything perfect the first time around but, whatever the outcome, I’ll always learn from my successes and failures. And lessons were aplenty in this module.

Read the previous entry: The Compliments Wallet

Read the first entry: Where do we begin?