The Dress tool allows participants to share insights about sensitive life experiences by using material and visual objects, and the power of storytelling.
The Core project has created a design research tool that makes it easy as well as fun to have sensitive conversations around sexual and reproductive health with, and about, adolescents. When working with adolescents, it is important to keep in mind the sensitivity of the age group, and the likelihood of being told about only one version of their lives. In order to avoid that, we made it easy for participants to build different kinds of personas, and different aspects of their lives using dresses and objects. For Core, that has helped us learn about the varied life and SRH linked challenges and experiences that mark the lives of adolescent girls in rural Tanzania. This tool can be adapted to build holistic personas for any purpose. The dresses and associated objects can be adapted to suit any gender, culture, and age group.
The objective of the Dress tool as used for Core is to:
Essentials you’ll need to play this game:
The Dress tool helps generate detailed and rich personas using blank dresses, local objects and visuals, and the power of storytelling. Participants are given images, a blank dress and everyday items. They then build imaginary personas onto the dress using the range of props provided to elaborate on her life story.
It is important to define your participant profile carefully. Typically this tool works well between smaller groups of same-sex participants.
Length of the session and size of the group
A typical Dress game tool session lasts for two hours. Depending on the approach and locale, the ideal size is 2-4 participants in a session.
1. Warm up
Mention that this interaction is meant to be fun. Since adolescents lead different kinds of lives, there is no single way of defining an adolescent’s life. So it is important for the purpose of the interaction to understand as many types of lives as possible. Remind the participants that this is not about them or their friends, or any specific person they might know. Iterate that the adolescent they will talk about is a fictional persona and characteristics attributed to it should be based on what they know and understand from girls around them. Let the participants know from the outset the approximate time required for the full interaction.
2. Generating descriptors to help build different kinds of adolescent personas
Ask participants to broadly describe the different kinds of adolescents they think are out there. This will involve the participants offering up descriptions for the persona. In rural Tanzania the participants gave descriptors like sweet, rude, pretty, studious, angry, and so on. A selection of these descriptors will then be grouped by the participants to form two personas.
Encourage participants to generate both positive and negative descriptors, as well as ensure the conversation is well-rounded and covers dimensions including social dynamics, psychological aspects, physical factors, economic concerns, and environmental factors. As a facilitator feel free to use the following prompts and use their responses as descriptors:
When selecting descriptors to form personas, ensure that it is a mix between positive and negative ones to form balanced profiles. Iterate that no one is only bad or only good.
3. Developing two balanced profiles
Ensure through facilitation that the most compelling and balanced personas are chosen. Continue building each of the profiles, one at a time, but in a fun way. These two personas will form the basis upon which your conversation and findings will be built, so invest time in getting the participants excited about them, and to relate with them:
Lead the discussion in a way that all participants contribute, stay energised and interested.
4. Revealing the dresses
This is the fun part. Ask participants to visualise the persona they have created and suggest what this person would typically wear. Ask them to pick a dress for each profile. At this point, the facilitator must lightly probe why the particular dress was chosen for the specific profile. Explain to them that the dress is currently bare and simple, but it will be built with their help.
5. Pinning and profile building, layer by layer!
Lay out all the objects on the table, and ask the participants to build out the world of this person using objects, images, colour swatches, fabric cutouts, beads, stickers – anything from the assortment of given items – by pinning the objects onto the dress.
Intersperse this building activity with light conversation, mentioning this is the key and fun part of the profile building exercise. Probe lightly into their choice of objects, and please ensure to engage with each participant. Request them to be as creative as they can, and they should feel satisfied with the persona they are bringing to life via objects.
Reveal one complete set of the visuals that you have created for this exercise. Keep the other set for the second persona.
The participants should be encouraged to stand up and actively engage with the cards and pinning activity.
Encourage the participants to act out or expand on what they share as they pin, making this as informative and detailed as possible. Spend no more than 20 minutes on each profile.
Starting with one persona, use the prompts below to help them layer the profiles and think through the images that they wish to pin onto the dress. Participants may tend to say or create similar characters so encourage them to think about what makes each adolescent different from the other and how best to visualise that.
Next, follow through with the same activity for the second persona. At the end, ask them for any final thoughts on both, thank and close the session. Make sure to take photos of the dresses before packing them away.
Tips and Notes