Lens: Type: Underlying Level

The functions a person plays in different situations.

grandmother with grandchild

People act out different “roles,” depending on the setting. A person’s role shapes their concerns and motivates their actions. For example, a woman may be a mother, a champion poker player, a volunteer referee for a community soccer league, and a wife. When acting as a champion poker player, she is not likely to be concerned about packing lunches for the kids. When she is acting primarily as a wife, she will use different words to express her feelings to her spouse that are very different than those she would use as a referee. Design outcomes are more effective if they support the role a person is playing.

Researching Role

Determining the roles people take on can help designers decide ways to create outcomes that support those roles. This research can also give designers insights that help them understand people’s responsibilities in different settings.

Questions to Ask About Role

  • What role is this person performing at this time?
  • What internal expectations come with performing this role?
  • What expectations do others have of this person because they are performing in this role?
  • What potential conflicts is this person experiencing because they have to choose what role to play at a specific time?

Look for These When Researching Role

  • A person’s professional obligations
  • A person’s relationships
  • The time of day/place that dictates what role a person “should” be playing


References and sources that support the inclusion of this Aspects of Experiences for Design component.

Social Sciences

Apter, M. J. (2016). Understanding Reversal Theory: Six Critical Questions. 5, 1-7.

Cantor, N. (1994). Life Task Problem Solving: Situational Affordances and Personal Needs. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 20(3), 235-243. doi:10.1177/0146167294203001

Diekman, A. B., Steinberg, M., Brown, E. R., Belanger, A. L., & Clark, E. K. (2016). A Goal Congruity Model of Role Entry, Engagement, and Exit: Understanding Communal Goal Processes in STEM Gender Gaps. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 21(2), 142-175. doi:10.1177/1088868316642141

Fiske, S. T., & Taylor, S. E. (2017). Social cognition: from brains to culture. (3rd ed.). London: SAGE.

Gabriel, S., Valenti, J., & Young, A. F. (2016). Social Surrogates, Social Motivations, and Everyday Activities: The Case for a Strong, Subtle, and Sneaky Social Self. In J. M. Olson & M. P. Zanna (Eds.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, Vol. 53 (pp. 189-243). Academic Press. doi:10.1016/bs.aesp.2015.09.003

Goffman, E. (1973). The presentation of self in everyday life. Woodstock, New York: Overlook Press.

Kadushin, C. (2012). Understanding Social Networks: Theories, Concepts, and Findings. New York: Oxford University Press.

Turner, J. C., Hogg, M. A., Oakes, P. J., Reicher, S. D., & Wetherell, M. S. (1987). Rediscovering the social group: A self-categorization theory. Cambridge, MA: Basil Blackwell.

Turner, J. C., & Reynolds, K. J. (2012). Self-Categorization Theory. In P. A. M. V. Lange, A. W. Kruglanski, & E. T. Higgins (Eds.), Handbook of Theories of Social Psychology, Volume 2 (pp. 399-417). London: SAGE Publications Ltd.