Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Game design for managers

The interest in design thinking for business managers is gathering momentum with an interesting article by Tim Brown (CEO of IDEO) in this month's Harvard Business Review. He gives a description of how design thinking can be used in developing products, services or strategies. It is closely related to work being done by Helen Fraser and others at the Rotman School of Management in Toronto. I especially liked their description of the role (non-physical) prototypes can play in the development of a strategy or a service.

What Marinka Copier and I would like to bring to the table is a more specific design approach for managers: that of game design. We are now at the point where we have developed a first version of an applied game design process that can be used for designing an organization structure or a business process. That is also where we take a slightly different direction than people like Brown and Fraser, who focus more on strategies, products and services. Whereas they take a client-centered approach, we look at the business process and take the perspective of the organizational actors in that process. The organization's goals and strategy are a starting point for us.

Why specifically game design? Because it is ultimately about designing meaningful behavior, and hopefully that is what we're trying to do in organizations as well. And since behavior cannot be designed directly - although some managers seem to thinks it can - game design has developed ways to deal with this "second-order design problem". The design process we have developed is adapted from the game design process as it is described by Tracy Fullerton. It consists of five steps.
The first step is setting the experience goals. In other words, which behavior, which way of working do we want to see in the organization?
The second step is envisioning the so-called core mechanism. This is where creativity is needed. What are the actions that the organizational actor(s) will be repeating most often, which should have the experience goals as an outcome?
The third step is building a representation of the core mechanism. This is the phase where you build the prototype, which borrows from techniques of paper prototyping developed for game design.
The fourth step is testing the prototype and adding rules to the system. This is the most important stage, where we should make sure rules are kept to a minimum and organizational preconditions do not hold back an innovative design. The process we are designing should meet the three core design principles of discernability, integration (Salen & Zimmerman's concept of meaningful play) and recoverable loss.
The final step is refinement, where you make sure the "playable" prototype meets the original experience goals.
The central element of this approach is working with the paper prototype and constantly adapting it in a number of iterations. But there is of course much more to say about this process, such as the techniques involved in the different steps and the ways in which mechanisms observed in games can be used as inspiration in the design process. We'll be talking about it at the EGOS Conference in July as well as individually with organizations that have expressed an interest in field testing this methodology. These field experiments are crucial in moving this methodology forward, refining it and judging its effects.

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