Let’s Play!

Meaningful audience engagement is an experience designer’s ultimate goal. However, we are often designing for a very broad demographic, or—due to the novelty of many of our experiences—a demographic that we know very little about.

So how do we design confidently for people we don’t know?

Since biological, cultural, and geographical factors can lead to varying personalities and preferences, it becomes helpful to identify psychological principles that unify our species.

One such principle is the notion that play leads to joy, learning, and many other benefits. 

There is extensive research in the field of play, but its application is often centered around children. All children use some form of play to discover and learn about the world around them. But research shows that play is crucial to adults as well. Simple everyday acts such as driving, cooking, or singing all involve some form of play and nourish us.

To leverage this innate human need, we decided to more intentionally incorporate play into our work. To simplify what is often a complex thing to design for, we distilled what we know about play into six easy Principles of Play. We use these principles during ideation sessions both internally and with our clients…

1. Create

If you’ve ever experienced the joy that comes with engaging in creative activity, you understand this principle well. Creative activity sparks feelings of optimism and achievement, even in those who do not consider themselves to be particularly creative. With this principle, whether it’s making an art piece or video story, we make it easy for anybody to unlock their inner creativity and play.


2. Compete

Competition is deeply rooted in our evolutionary heritage, and we thrive on it in many aspects of our lives. Sports and games are the most popular form of competitive play, but even something as simple as completing a small task causes your brain to release endorphins. Using this principle, we often introduce our audience to playful challenges that must be overcome—inciting a competitive instinct that is addictive.


3. Imagine

Most children spend hours playing in make-believe worlds, but an occasional daydream can lure adults into a state of imaginative play as well. Using this principle, we create experiences that leave just enough room for imagination—like a world full of hints that spur audiences to imagine and interpret a story from another time and place. 


4. Perform

Whether playing a musical instrument or acting in a play, performers experience a range of positive emotions including confidence, flow, and pride. In addition to being emotionally beneficial to the performer, this particular form of play is also entertaining for audiences who experience the performance. Designing for this principle means creating the perfect stage and tools for anybody to become a performer.


5. Direct

Though one of the more subtle principles, the ability to direct something with one’s own body leads to a very natural form of play. Humans crave tactile interaction, and the simple act of picking up a block or pulling a knob instills a sense of agency that is empowering. 


6. Ride

In many ways, this principle is the inverse of the previous one. While having control can be satisfying, letting go and hanging on for the ride can make us feel alive and adventurous. Playgrounds and amusement parks are proof of this principle working its magic. 

We’ve noticed that applying one or more of these principles to a project leads to a more engaging, sticky, and memorable experience. In a world where busy calendars and information overload dominate our existence, we strive to design moments that activate our naturally playful selves to lead happier and fuller lives.

– Pavani Yalla, Associate Creative Director, Experience Design


Second Story creates enchanting, informative, and entertaining media experiences with innovative technologies that empower connections to ideas.

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