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Design exploration, why it’s important to start a project with it

A look at game-based learning tools and toolkits

Design exploration is a category title, or umbrella term, that I’ve chosen that best describes a selection of tools that delve into the various features and facets of a company, organisation and/or project. For a quick reference of these tools and many more, you can go to the Game-Based Learning Toolkit at These tools can be used for your own company or for that of a client project that you are developing a gamification solution for.

If you’re developing a gamification solution, then the tools within the design exploration category are the best starting points for you. With them, you can determine the viability of a project, the possible interests and the likely buy-in for the project. As well as finding out what the available resources are that are required for the project you will be undertaking.

For those who want a TL;DR, the purpose of design exploration is for you to live the problem that you wish to solve and through this develop the best answer over a longer period.

In essence, what you are doing, is peeling away the layers of an onion (the problem) and slowly getting to the core and finding the best possible solution.

Design exploration and thinking

According to IDEO, there are three phases to design exploration and thinking:

  • Inspiration,
  • Ideation and
  •  Implementation.

For our purposes, we’re looking more at the Inspiration and Ideation part of this triumvirate.

When starting a project and trying to discover what the solution could be, we need to do research in order to get the inspiration for an answer. And to do this we need to start with the people, who the project is for, who is going to take part in it, develop it, use it, and so on.

As its heart, design exploration is a human-focused and human-driven methodology. And to this end, the tools that fall within design exploration deal with exploring the company you are in, and/or the one it is for. Talking to and interviewing stakeholders, researching the available resources, be these human resources or physical or digital resources that you may require. Doing quantitative and qualitative research of the product and services to be delivered. And doing an industry and competitor analysis, as well as finding out what your brand perception is, both internally and externally.

As all of these tools and processes are human-focused, the activity of using them is of a collaborative nature. Even if you may be a solo-freelancer, you will still be working with others to find the answers to the various points. Likely it will be with the client and their team then. As each tool has a reason within the overall exploration process.

The reason for Design Exploration

The primary reason to research and explore the various areas of a company, it’s people, it’s customers, and the products or services, is to get the gears to turn and to promote creativity and innovation within yourself and those that you are working with, be that your team or the client.

The benefits of developing a gamification solution that has taken a human-focused and holistic approach to a problem are various. Firstly it leads to reduced time for market delivery for a product and/or service. Secondly, it saves on costs of development and will often increase the return on investment. Thirdly it will improve customer retention and loyalty, as you will know what your target audience wants and expects. And lastly, the information you have gathered will be invaluable as it can be used and applied to many different areas, not just for this one project.

When you are doing design exploration, you should always be asking two questions; “Why?” and “What if?”. These may be simple questions, but asking these questions for every aspect will help you to delve deeper into the problem and it will stimulate the creative juices required to solve that problem.

For example, ‘Why is the product perceived this way?’ Or ‘Why is the product only used for this?’ The answers or lack of answers to this question will then lead to the What-if. ‘What if the product were perceived differently, would that make a difference?’ ‘What if the product could be used for something else or multiple things?’ We’ve now started thinking differently about what we have and what we can do, thus we’ve laid the seeds of creativity.

Outcomes of design exploration

The outcomes of a well thought out design exploration strategy should be clear by this point. As it gives a wealth of information and hopefully also to a host of questions that will lead to a more accurate solution.

The various tools that fall under design exploration will aid in your understanding of what the problem is and where it is. In the following articles that are after this one, we will explore each tool, such as stakeholder analysis, competitor analysis and brand perception, in greater detail. This will give you a more comprehensive understanding of what each one can offer you and how they can work together to give you a better overall image of the problem that you are trying to solve.

The crux of design exploration, after all, is solution-based rather than problem-based. And developing a human-focused gamification solution, with a solution-based mindset will lead to a longer-lasting change, and a more effective outcome.

In the end, the goal is to have a higher chance of behavioural change caused by the gamification solution. Your aim and priority should always be that you discover and figure out how the goals of the project can align with the goals of the target audience, and that both sides have a net positive outcome from the gamification solution that you have developed and delivered.

I hope that this piece has given you some food for thought and helped improve your own methods or at least offered a different viewpoint to consider.

Do check out the other posts on æ, and do leave a comment or contact us if you have some ideas of your own that you wish to discuss or if you would like to see other topics discussed.

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