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3. Design provocation

Showing props, visuals or sketch ideas to people to stimulate feedback and discussion. This is not about validating ideas but aims to provoke responses from your users.

Design provocation


During the early and middle stages of the design process, to explore potential directions and create discussion around prospective ideas.


  • Decide whether you want the users to alter, influence or even create the provocation, or to simply give feedback on it 
  • Construct as either a group or individual activity


  • Can help stimulate discussion and inform new directions  
  • Can present users with untested, future-thinking or even unfeasible ideas for feedback early on in the development process
  • People are able to relate better to physical objects and visuals than abstract ideas
  • Asking the user to respond to a sketch prototype can reveal the motivation behind their choices
  • Early assessment of acceptability of design concepts 
  • Engages a person’s imagination and their own empathic response


  • People find it difficult to see beyond details. You might want them to comment on the concept direction but they get hung up on the colour 
  • Users are not generally trained in design, so feedback must take account of this
  • Ideas and discussion can be limited by the range of provocations shown
  • Provocations may be too abstract for some users who need something more concrete to respond to


  1. The investigator creates and brings a number of provocations to show to a user and ask for feedback.
  2. Allow for as wide a range of provocations as possible in order to accommodate the subject being explored. Try not to be too conservative. This is an opportunity to push the boundaries.
  3. Clearly explain the purpose of the provocation and what you hope to explore. For example, are you interested in the form, or function, or both?
  4. Props can be used to help to discuss symbolic meaning, as well as to explore physical and tactile qualities. These are a selection of existing objects for the user to comment on.
  5. Speculative designs can be explored by mixing or contrasting existing ideas. These are usually simple hybrid images or customisable sketches that allow people to create an ideal design for themselves.
  6. Concept designs such as images, storyboards and sketch models can be shown to the user to help gauge responses and clarify needs.
  7. Asking the user to explain their responses or decisions can help to understand motivations and potential design requirements.
  8. Use the provocations as a starting point for discussion and feedback on designs and directions. Try not to get stuck on an assessment of the details.


  • Interview: design provocations can be useful in an interview. They can add an extra layer of more specific feedback and help to focus discussion onto design issues
  • Workshop: design provocations could be used as a creative activity or as a starting point for discussion within a workshop


  • Focusing the design direction in the early stages of development 
  • Talking about ideas that users might not be able to understand or visualise without a physical piece to respond to
  • Exploring a range of new ideas rather than finalising or validating 
  • Assessment and clarification of key features and requirements from a user perspective