How to do Market Research using Gamestorming

An interactive and fun approach to user-centered design

Kate Dames


“How do you create a product or service that users want? How do you understand the needs and get buy-in from a community that you don’t belong to?”

These were the two main questions driving our first in a series of market research workshops with the aim to launch a Business Development Center in a local township in Cape Town, South Africa.

The vision behind the center is to connect and empower the local, currently disadvantaged community through business. The dream is to create social entrepreneurs who view problems as opportunities to start a profitable business. Uplifting while empowering.

The challenge? Finding the balance between philanthropy and empowerment as an outsider, with the understanding that doing something for someone doesn’t necessarily empower them. Many non-profits fail because they come in with a solution that worked for them or their culture without first understanding the challenges and needs of the community they are trying to help. Ernesto Sirolli concisely explains the problem in his TED talk below:

We decided to heed to Ernesto’s sound advice and spent the first few weeks doing market research in a series of workshops aimed to increase awareness, build a following and get buy-in from the community, while asking them what they need and listening to what they want with an open mind.

Crafting a User Experience Journey

The first step in our approach to market research using gamestorming was to create context and focus by introducing the main topic for the day, carefully chosen based on our bigger vision going forward.

User Journey Creation

Following the lean startup model, our first goal is to create and establish a learning environment where people can find the information they are looking for in the form of an internet cafe.

Knowledge is power.

After a quick warmup and introduction, we spent a few minutes brainwriting everything a user could think of doing and wanting in an Internet Cafe. Each person silently wrote down all their ideas on sticky notes and posted it on a pre-compiled user-journey outlining the main phases of the user-journey.

Insight #1 — The majority of the audience doesn’t currently have access to a smartphone or other device to access the internet. They had no idea what an internet cafe should look like.

Initially we thought this was a disadvantage and that we should have first provided more context as to the current “what-is” before launching into the future, but soon afterwards realized that this was what gave us an edge and differentiated this internet cafe from everything else currently out there.

Empathy mapping and bodystorming

Next we split the group into two, with one group becoming the actors in a bodystorming session, while the other group took notes on an empathy map while observing.

Knowing that the community doesn’t have any prior expectation and use of an internet cafe, a pre-prepared possible user scenario written on a piece of paper was handed out randomly throughout the bodystorming session and the actors had to improvise a solution to this problem or event posed to them.

Afterwards everyone was gathered in a circle and invited to share their insights and discuss what is needed to make this business a success.

Insight #2 — The random inputs (a De Bono thinking method) not only made the bodystorming more engaging and fun, but aided the thinking process immensely, making it an extremely useful tool.

Most of the new insights were as a result of these unexpected events rather than the planned events and mapped out user journey.

With a good idea of what a successful Internet Cafe business will look like and some food for thought on what business challenges might be encountered in such an environment, we took a coffee break while continuing the discussion.

Brainwriting and dot-voting

While the first part of the workshop was dedicated to figuring out what the space will look like, the final part of the workshop focused on figuring out what the contents of the space should be.

The group was asked to write down everything they want to learn on sticky notes while posing questions such as “What are you interested in?” “What skill do you want to develop?” “What do you want to learn?”.

Each person was invited to post his or her ideas on the board and briefly explained where needed. Finally, each person was allocated 3 voting tokens and asked to vote for the items they were most interested in using the dot-voting method.

The Outcome and Conclusion

What came out of the workshop was a unique concept for an internet cafe and a comprehensive and clear list of topics the community wanted to learn to develop themselves.

It was surprising how simple yet different the concept was for the internet cafe. Looking obvious, I looked at all the internet cafe’s around and none of the met the blueprint created by the group — consisting of a combination of fulfilling basic needs to allow the the time and space to spend behind a computer, and the nice-to-have’s which is the difference between going there vs. going elsewhere for a similar service.

It was also surprising how there was a lot of interest in various topics, yet two main topics stood out clearly as a basic need, allowing us to focus on the core offering that should form part of the starting phase of the internet cafe.

Within a few hours we went from a blank slate to a very clearly defined value proposition. Using traditional methods where customers are interviewed, a lot of time is spent on research and teams working in isolation, “hiding” the proposed service or product offering during the initial phases, our collaborative, inclusive approach using gamestorming not only shortened the time needed for a needs analysis, but also ensured alignment with the target market and the ability to do an immediate user validation as part of the process of defining the user journey and concept.



Kate Dames

A cup of fresh ideas for old problems. Integrating technology, agile, gamification & lean to make workplaces more human, productive & fun.