The Foray Method

Not one to shy away from vanity projects, this one has the potential to be a great method for experience or service design while involving a clever play on words. Cue the cautiously smug face.

What need is being addressed?
All to often we feel that we get too close to a project or piece of work, so much so we don’t see the things that could be blatantly obvious to a fresh pair of eyes. But on the contrary, unless you know enough about an area you may not see into the heart of an issue and so novices tend to dwell on cosmetic or superficial changes.

How does the FORAY METHOD tackle this?

With this method we bring people together who have the right skills (marketing, design, UX, content etc) but not a product or audience knowledge and quickly immerse them into the right mind set. This enables us to get them to approach our problem armed with just enough information and give us (as the product experts) something to think about in more detail perhaps.


There are four sections to the method and each can be titled with an A. Four As.

A foray can be defined as a sudden incursion into a place you’re normally forbidden to enter usually to extract something. That plays well to what we’re after:

  • sudden – no pre-reading and not drawn out.
  • usually forbidden – the participants shouldn’t usually work on this product or area
  • extract something – we’re looking for actions and something to work on.

See, clever wordplay.

A deliberate/accepted limitation is that we’re not garnering consumer insights or winning the war. What we want is incremental changes and improvements.  It’s a way to look at the service a fresh. Probably commensurate with the investment we can make (either money or time).

The FORAY format
In the pilot session a group of participants were invited to attend a 2 hour session. They were told about the desired outcome, but not the subject matter. In the session, held over lunch, 5 mins was spent talking about the objective and format of the session and introducing the subject. 25 mins was the spent talking in detail about the subject by the subject matter expert (SME). They talked through the business objective and current perceived issues. This gave our participants enough grounding to work independently of the expert. They were then divided into teams of four or less (required according to the Power of Faff theorem!).

Over the remaining 90mins these teams proceeded to deliver 4 outputs. Audience, Assessment, Analysis, Appraisal


This is about understanding who each team is thinking of. The teams need to create a basic pen portrait of a persona who might use our service. Each team had a different segment.

A template was given to aid the output.


Even the most basic details let us talk as if we are the audience so we give our persona a name and back story.  To keep this light a small picture was sketched. The bulk of our portrait is the description. Here we talk about the persona’s motivations for using our service / product, their typical tasks, what they want out of it, and so on. We also phrase a success statement.  What would our persona say (their language) if we got this service right. What’s the big benefit to them.

At the end of this session each team has 30 seconds to introduce their character. The SME gets an opportunity to point out any anomalies or highlight pertinent characteristics.

It’s incredible how quickly we can pull a credible, albeit superficial, persona.

5 mins

In the next lightening round we imagine, in our teams, what our persona’s barriers might be when it comes to using a service in this area (not especially ours). This can be done in a number of ways. In the pilot a prompt of AIDA was given. This is realy a framing exercise to think about our persona’s attitude.

At the end each team reads one issue to the group. Just to keep interaction high.


This is the main thrust of the session, getting under the skin of the existing service. The teams review according to how their character would interact with it. All elements of the design and experience should be noted. Some of this might be generic, some very specific. And it is all relevant. The task for the teams here is to argue for those improvements that their persona would want in order to get the to their success statement. Keep the teams talking and therefore thinking through their persona, using the name helps considerably.

This session can be done through postits, scribbling on a flip chart or otherwise. This is brainstorming only. And with all good brainstorming sessions there are no wrong answers. We’ll find the less right answers next…


Here the teams review their ideas from the Analysis session and categorise them. The output here, and therefore of the whole workshop, is to define an actionable list of options. Some elements might be quick fixes and others could be projects in their own right. This group isn’t interested in that. Each team may have a view on what is most significant for the audience group or organisation and so an arbitrary rank should be given.


At the end of the session each team presents their findings to the group. This should be strictly limited to 2 minutes and involve a recap of the persona, the key problem they face and then the top 3-5 priority changes they’d recommend.

The presentation should be judged by the SME, in the pilot a winning team was selected and imaginary prizes given. Real ones are optional but in our pilot I think the winning team appreciated their prize of an extra day of life!

The competitive element isn’t necessary, but it helps galvanise the team working. We not only like to win, we like to beat others.

In the case of our pilot this was a useful exercise. The teams showed great insight and benefited from exploring elements like audience understanding more by being hands in, than sitting back to be told.

There was a tendency to race into solutions, but there is a value in going through these steps.

Another point of view is that a more traditional requirements gathering session with analysts would have been better, by my own view here is that a session like that serves a different ‘back to the drawing board’ need. The beauty and limitation if this foray method is quick snap shot views and quick wins.

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