Playing with dice and research

Alastair Somerville
4 min readJul 20, 2017

I’ve posted about these Research Randomiser dice lately and had some queries about why I’ve made them.

A walking workshop at EuroIA

The basic reason I’ve made them is as props for a new workshop I’m designing for the EuroIA conference in Stockholm in September.

The workshop is around the slightly mind mangling issue of how to understand and organise individual perceptions of information when it is accessible through physical and digital architectures in the same place.

I need simple things to help provide some structure while talking about complicated things.

Walking around and researching how people use places, technologies and services is a key part of the workshop. There is a need to go and look and a need to write down and present.

The dice are a tool for the former: how to make research fun and cover some of the key aspects of it. Many of the attendees may not be done this kind of fieldwork so simple props provide some guidance.

Perhaps I could have created a checklist but I haven’t and there are reasons for that.

Randomness and how to avoid avoiding new things

Conference workshops are a good time to try new things and be in a supportive atmosphere of learning new practice with people you don’t work with.

I mostly design experiential workshops so as to provide a place to explore and experiment with new ideas and methods.

This workshop needs to cover some new ways of researching (drawn from work in cognitive accessibility) and mapping information.

On the research side, I’m interested in creating situations where people go out and about looking and acting in new ways.

That’s quite hard for people to do. So adding a random element helps. It makes breaking out of a normal way of behaving easier. Especially when in a group of strangers who are also willing to act in a new way.

The dice provide some structure with the six options but also create moments of randomness.

How to randomise actions?

The dice however, are not the original form of prop I designed.

I’ve looked at a number of ways of creating moments of randomness.

I started with paper cards.

A full deck of playing cards with 4 actions on them.

I like cards. I use many different forms of them in usability sessions.

The problem was cost of production. I could print them out at home and use a Cricut to cut them out but that’s a lot of printer ink and time.

Professional card printers do exist and accept standard design files. Yet, say for 8 tables in a workshop, that’s a few hundred pounds for one workshop prop.

I then went to card cubes. They’re simple to print and fun to make during workshops.

You can download a version here.

It’s good enough but a bit light when throwing and can crumple up. The cubes are cheap uk make but the quality of experience is lower.

In summary:

  • Cards were too expensive, cubes not so much
  • Cards were good workshop experience, cubes not so much

So, finally, we get to the dice.

Stickers are cheap. Moo print mini stickers for a few pounds.

Blank dice are easy to buy on Amazon (strangely not so much on eBay in UK).

So that’s why there are these random research dice.

I needed something to guide workshop participants but not trap them tightly in a way of working or thinking.

I needed something that was physically robust and pleasant to use that wasn’t too expensive.

Just as final note: the blank dice can be re-used in the future so they are a useful resource to keep over time too.



Alastair Somerville

Sensory Design Consultant, usability researcher and workshop facilitator. Twitter @acuity_design & @visceralUX