When You Can’t Access Your Users For Input, Role-Playing Can Provide Valuable Insights

By Allison Sall
April 16, 2022

The mark of an effective product is one built around learned insights by observing users’ behavior and meeting their needs. But that’s not easy for health and wellness services because talking to and observing patients using your product can be more challenging due to privacy laws.

So what’s a lawfully compliant product like yours to do when they need a user’s perspective to inform their design? 

Simple: a design thinking technique called role-play. Step into your users’ proverbial shoes and act out targeted scenarios as keen observers take notes. 

There’s no acting class or script involved. Just your team taking on the roles of users and observers, all in the name of finding opportunities to better your product.

Why is Role-Playing Crucial for Designing an Effective Health and Wellness Product?

Nothing about designing a product is easy. This is why bumping up against patient privacy laws makes designing your health and wellness product more challenging. 

There are more obstacles and time-commitment to recruiting users to learn about their behaviors or talking to them about their motivations, fears, or needs. As a result, when you need quick user feedback on your product, your team might get stuck, or your product release cycle might slow down.

Role-playing can change all of that. Stepping into a fictional user’s shoes allows your team to:

  • Avoid assumptions. We all have assumptions that can sneak their way into our design. Is that feature or additional step in an onboarding quiz really what your customers need, or just something you think they do? Role-playing can help keep assumptions about your design in check.
  • Build empathy. Designing a product without empathy for your users will likely lead to low usage and high churn rates. How can you expect your product to succeed if you aren’t consistently designing to your users’ desires, needs, and motivations for using your product? Putting yourself in the proverbial shoes of your user is an automatic empathy builder for everyone on the team.
  • Dig deeper into your product. Looking at a painting in an art gallery from different angles can give you different perspectives. So, too, can role-playing help you look at your product differently. When you take yourself out of your typical role and into that of a user or observer, you get to see what you’ve been working so hard on from a different angle. This allows you to see improvement opportunities that much clearer.

Role-playing isn’t an icebreaker game for your team (though we promise it’s a great team-building bonus). Instead, it’s a design thinking technique that can challenge what you previously thought, help you brainstorm new ideas, and better understand what your users are going through. 

4 Steps to Uncovering the Best Possibilities for Refining Your Health and Wellness Product

Whether you’re hesitant to display your acting skills to your teammates or you’re ready to jump right in, know that there are a few crucial steps to follow. After all, you want to make the most of your role-playing session. So here’s how you do it. 

Step 1: Plan user-profiles and the use case scenario

If you have a list of user personas, take them out for inspiration. If you don’t, that’s ok. This first step is all about writing profiles for different patients and a brief scenario of the specific point in the customer journey you need to reexamine.

Think about the personas that typically use your product. Are they dealing with a chronic illness, or did they learn about a new diagnosis? Are they a parent using your product to help navigate their child’s allergy? Maybe your product is centered around mental health? We encourage you to think of writing various profiles for patients dealing with different diagnoses. Creating multiple profiles will only provide your team with a better variety of insights. 

As for your scenario, think about a user flow that has seen a lot of friction lately. What has your team been struggling with lately? Or, perhaps you would like to conduct usability testing on a particular feature, but you can’t. Scenarios might look like going to a routine doctor’s visit, confirming food ordered at a restaurant is allergen-free or communicating with a therapist. Try to make the scenario as detailed and realistic as possible.

Step 2: Select who will act and who will observe

Assign who will play the parts of your users (actors) and who will be observers. Consider everyone on your team, especially those who don’t work as closely with the product day-to-day. Your actors will use the specific profiles you just wrote to embody a patient. One observer should be assigned to each actor to allow them to focus. 

Step 3: Act out the scenario. 

Lights, camera, action! Have the actors thoughtfully play out the scenario with your product. At the same time, the observers should take detailed notes and pay attention to opportunities and pain points as they come up. 

For example, let’s say the scenario follows a user scheduling and checking into a virtual doctor’s appointment using your product. The actor will schedule the appointment, fill out forms as a patient, check in to the appointment, and meet with the doctor. Your observers should watch and learn what aspects of your product’s user experience are unclear and cause hesitation and confusion.

Observations aren’t only for the observers, though. An actor will see things that contribute to the overall experience that maybe the observer didn’t pick up on. This means actors should also keep track of what was challenging and share their ideas about ways to improve the user experience at the end. 

Step 4: Recap the experience to illuminate new insights

It’s time to talk about it. Recap the experience, ask questions, and talk about what the observers and the actors noticed. 

  • Where were the awkward moments? 
  • What questions were misunderstood during onboarding that affected the user’s experience?
  • How did points of friction play out? 
  • What needs refinement?

It’s important to share discoveries immediately after the role-play session is complete because the experience is fresh in everyone’s mind. As you share insights, you should be able to separate the areas that you can refine immediately from the others that require more time, thought, and design effort.

Leaning into this design thinking technique can be daunting as you try to juggle everything else your product requires of you. So we’ve lightened the load by leading role-playing exercises for health and wellness teams, giving product leaders deeper decision-making insights.

We’re ready whether you need a helping hand or someone to take the wheel entirely.