Offline Game-like Elicitation Methods: Enthiosys

I went to the SDForum “Foundations of Innovation“event yesterday to find out more about Enthiosys.
Enthiosys is a consulting company in the bay area that has developed an innovative approach to doing market research by playing games.
Games! That’s what MindCanvas is all about! It was very cool to see that we weren’t the only ones who believed that traditional market research was so boring for participants that it was generating bogus data. And that a game (or something game-like) just might be the solution. Enthiosys is all about game-like experiences that you can do face-to-face with your customers. In contrast, MindCanvas is about game-like experiences that you can do remotely over the internet.

The cool thing about playing games in reality (instead of on the internet) is that it’s possible to support a very high level of creativity. In fact, many of the Enthiosys games involve using crayons and markers and scissors…they are craft projects as much as games.
The fact that you’re engaging customers in this fashion means that some very compelling works of “customer art” get left behind at the end of the session (they call this “customer residue”, which makes it sound pretty gross) ;->. The nice thing about this kind of customer art is that it (according to Enthiosys) has a big impact on an organization: just like a video of a usability test, it’s qualitative data that packs an emotional punch. There’s no sense doing research if no one listens to it. You ALWAYS want to consider how your research will be able to punch through the organizational decision-making process. It has to either have emotional resonance or the weight of statistics and large numbers behind it.

Luke Hohmann
from Enthiosys led us in a game called “Product Box”. The goal: each table had to build the packaging for an imaginary new clock radio. This meant that we had to decide on a feature set. One guy at my table suggested brainstorming features, and we got right to it. Feature after outrageous feature was suggested (it records your dreams! It’s Bluetooth-compatible! It wakes you up by tickling you!) and were duly noted down. It occurred to me at that point that brainstorming is really nothing more than group freelisting, something that I had never really realized before.
With 15 minutes left to go, we had an outrageous list of features. I suggested quickly classifying the features into a number of categories, and picking one of the categories as the feature list of our product. Something like a card sorting.
The table agreed, and we made three piles: “entertainment”, “life management”, and “aesthetics”. We picked the “entertainment” category. Our clock radio would entertain the heck out of you. Video projector, streaming video, audio, and pictures, WIFI compatible, it was more like a media client than a clock radio. The kind of thing you’ll probably see in Frys in a year or two.
Our box was really pretty ugly, unfortunately (no artists of any description at my table). Each table had to give a pitch for the product they had designed: my pitch of the hypothetical product went fine, but frankly there was no way we could compete against the iDream, a (hypothetical) iPod-dockable clock radio that was so slick-looking it’s probably already in preproduction somewhere.
The social aspects of the games were very interesting. I got a lot of ideas (for desirable features) by interacting with the participants. But the fact that we all had to agree on a final product design made our final design atrocious. The wisdom of crowds only works if each individual is working independently, so Innovation Games / Game-like Elicitation Methods might benefit from being social, but competitive (rather than cooperative).
Enthiosys has twelve games that they use in their practice. The games are described in detail on their site, and Luke Hohmann is working on a book that describes the InnovationGames ™ approach in greater detail.
The Enthiosys approach seem like a great way to attack certain market research problems. I especially like their “feature prioritization games”, which include “Buy a Feature” (which makes customers from coalitions to buy features with pretend money) and “20/20 vision” , which has customers do a bubble-sort of features in order to determine which ones are highest priority.
In summary, it’s really great to see that MindCanvas is not alone, and that other are recognizing that game-like experiences can be an amazing way to learn from your customers.