George Triantafyllakos, PhD | Academic work 2004–2010
Design alter egos

Design alter egos have been envisioned as a technique that can enhance students' participation in the design of educational systems. It draws knowledge and inspiration from traditional participatory design studies and design approaches that make extensive use of narrative, fictional characters and imaginary landscapes as their primary setting for design. Eventually, the outcomes of the design alter egos technique, namely, the design alter egos created by the participants, provide the designers with a rich database of authentic user conceptualizations that can be used as a guide for further design decisions throughout the rest of the design process.

Design alter egos are fictional characters: portrayals of representative users with a face, a name, a personality and a life story. However, instead of being based on user data analyses or well-known cultural sources they are created by the participants themselves at the onset of collaborative design sessions.Each participant creates his own design alter ego using a specially designed Fictional Character Form (see below). He ends up with his own detailed and tangible rendering of "the user" which becomes his communication agent throughout the design process, takes on its perspective and, ultimately, plays-at its role.

Design alter egos manage to liberate the participants from the fear of straightforwardly exposing themselves, support and enhance their introspection, and help in establishing a creative atmosphere throughout the design sessions. They act effectively as "tabula rasa" for the majority of the students to project upon them an idealized version of themselves together with characteristics and behaviors borrowed from others. This presents them with an opportunity to introspect and, in effect, re-invent themselves, while at the same time offer them a fruitful and stimulating source of inspiration. Apart from educational software design circumstances, the technique can be successfully applied in participatory design projects with the involvement of a wide variety of participants, ranging from young students to old people, as well as in different design fields, such as product or interaction design.

Find out more about the technique in the related publications (if you cannot access the papers send me an email at and I will send them to you).

Related publications:
Triantafyllakos, G., Palaigeorgiou, G., Tsoukalas, I.A. (2010) Fictional characters in participatory design sessions: Introducing the "design alter egos" technique. Interacting with Computers 22(3): 165–175.

Triantafyllakos, G., Palaigeorgiou, G., and Tsoukalas, I.A. (2009) Design alter egos: constructing and employing fictional characters in collaborative design sessions. In Proceedings of HCI 2009 – People and Computers XXIII – Celebrating people and technology (Cambridge, UK, September 1–5, 2009). BCS, 20–28. Archival highlight prize.

Triantafyllakos, G., Palaigeorgiou, G., and Tsoukalas, I.A. (2009) Using Fictional Characters as Students' Alter Egos In Participatory Design Sessions. In Proceedings of ICICTE 2009 – Readings in Technology and Education (Corfu, Greece, July 9–11, 2009), 413–424.

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