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Methods – Pseudo-documentary

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What it is:

This presents a design scenario in the form of a film that has a documentary format but is actually staged. Real users of a future product or service can participate in the pseudo-documentary working as actors with a script. This method enables people to share in the exploration of imagined or speculative outcomes. Although events and characters are fictitious, they can nevertheless be based on real user insights

Input:

Expertise:

Time:

Staffing:

Costs:

Low | Medium | High

Low | Medium | High

Low | Medium | High

Low | Medium | High

Output:

A realistic representation of an imagined scenario

Best suited to:

 

DISCOVER

Earlier stages of the design process

Supporting design scenarios with a compelling narrative

Enabling real users to engage with future outcomes

Demonstrating the potential of a highly speculative idea

Characteristics:

DESIGNING FOR | WITH | BY PEOPLE

Type of interaction:

LEARN | LOOK | ASK | TRY | IMAGINE

Goes well with:

Interviews, Day in the Life, Observation & Shadowing, Video Ethnography

What designers say

‘…The pseudo-documentary format brings to life ideas about the future that can be hard to visualise and understand by other means …’ – Peter Bosson

Examples

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Futurescapes of work: a documentary from 2012

In 2006, designer Anab Jain made a pseudo-documentary about the office wokers of the future, populating the imagined district of Little Brinkland with three fictitious characters.

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Desire Management

Noam Toram’s film, Desire Management, comprises five sequences in which objects are used as vehicles for dissident behaviour. The work is based on real testimonials and news reports.

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Background and further reading

One of the first uses of the pseudo-documentary in design research was by Tony Dunne, Dan Sellars and Fiona Raby on the EU-funded Presence project in 1995. A film called The Pillow was made in which an elderly woman described how she thought she would live with an object like ‘The Pillow’, how often she would use it, and how her friends and neighbours might react. The interviewee was a knowing participant in a fiction. The aim was not to convince an audience of a need, but to draw them into a ‘what if’ scenario.

Dunne T. (1999) Methods Lab|User Research Methods, Royal College of Art, p26