Gamification in Concept Design: A Dark Horse Approach

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While reading the March edition of Brainovation’s insights newsletter on straight thinking in a non-linear world, the ILF stumbled over this rather interesting report on gamification applied to concept design.

The report examines the use of gamification and, in particular, how gamification can assist in promoting the exploration of breakthrough innovative concepts in the early design concept phase, combined with concurrent and early identification of the most promising candidates. Special attention has been given to gamification’s ability to increase team risk-taking behaviour and exploration of breakthrough innovative design concepts and the subsequent influence on project performance. Predicting the success of a potential breakthrough innovative business opportunity in New Product Development (NPD) is notoriously difficult and is synonymous with high market and technology risk. In fact the report highlights that:

Looking at strategic design projects, one of the major challenges in exploring breakthrough innovations is by managing design teams’ risk-taking, navigating the path of moving from high to low risk in the early concept phase.

A ‘Dark Horse’ approach (e.g. backing a concept that is judged as unlikely to succeed) and encouraging the design teams to conduct orthogonal concept exploration for a set period of time (e.g. two weeks) can be applied in order to overcome this risk-aversiveness. One of the challenges here is to suspend beliefs and judgment for a sufficiently long period to explore and develop radical new concepts, thereby giving design teams a chance to evolve and mature. Traditionally, project managers and creative directors manage this process by nudging the teams, based on their individual experience. The goal of the report was to analyse whether risk taking of teams can be increased by integrating the following ‘game rules’ into the early stage of the design process;

  1. – performing self-assessment of risk perception,
  2. – betting on which team will arrive at the best business opportunity,
  3. – and grading deliverables in front of an external panel of experts.

Studies conducted consisted of a pilot study at Copenhagen Business School and two other studies conducted in the Design Technology and Innovation Management project courses at Hanyang University in Seoul, South Korea.  At the completion of the business development phase (user study, technology search, business strategy, business model and design brief) weekly betting was conducted, where the teams bet on which team would receive the highest external panel grade. For a period of eight weeks, short weekly briefings were conducted outlining the procedure of the betting prior to the day’s presentations. The wager was formulated in the following way: Winner is the team who accumulates the most Management of Technology Dollars (MOT$) predicting the best business opportunity presented in week 15, as assessed by an external panel.

The findings showed that gamification promotes extended risk-taking, can assess team-confidence and decision-making ability and acts as an early indicator of the performance of the final concepts. Suggestions for future studies include testing of gamification on industry projects and making it operational by adapting the approach to the NPD culture, organizational structures and project decision-making processes.

In summary, when knowledge is limited and uncertainty high, gamification, relying on tacit knowledge, outperforms systematic decision-making approaches.

Download the full report here

Source: Journal of Design, Business & Society, Volume 1, Number 1, 1 March 2015, pp. 95-110(16)

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