Simulation Design Style

Business Simulations are a combination of art and science and like other art forms there are several "movements" that impact the design style and focus.











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Although the artistic aspect of business simulation design has long been recognised [1] little has been written about the artistic style embodied in the simulation's design. Here business simulation's style is discussed in terms of a three dimensional space where the axes are realism, engagement and learning. Axes that interact and need balance. Leading from this are three design movements [2]  - hunter-gatherer, serious games and corporate cartooning! - where each movement is positioned differently stylistically.

As illustrated by the title of my latest book (Corporate Cartooning) I see business simulations as the mathematical equivalent of the graphic cartoon or comic strip (something that is regarded as unacceptably frivolous by some academics!)

Artistic Space

The Realism Axis

This ranges in artistic styles from photorealism, through impressionalism to surrealism. A progression that depends on the extent of stylisation and simplification.

The Engagement Axis

This ranges from engagement from relying on content through challenge to fun. Where content assumes that merely working on a simulated real world problem is sufficient to engage and motivate. Where challenge assumes that the learners are stretched and fun is fun. A progression that depends on how challenge and competition are designed into the business simulation.

The Learning Axis

This ranges from natural learning (by working in a simulated world) from a simulated experience to learning by design (where the simulation is structured). A progression that depends on design for purpose and design for process. Specifically, this axis defines the extent to which the design focuses on defined learning objectives and takes into account the learning process.

Design Balance

The design of a business simulation involves balancing the axes [3]

Reality-Learning Balance

A totally accurate model of the real world is deceptively attractive. But, there are several issues.

  1. Complexity - the real world is complex and this may cloud learning
  2. Focus - focusing on reality may involve including irrelevant learning
  3. Cognitive Load - complexity coupled with irrelevant learning impacts this.
  4. Duration - in turn these lead to long durations.

A benefit with models is that they can be stylised and simplified to enhance the way they fulfil their purpose - consider the London Underground map - before 1933 you would plan your journey using a topographically real map . In 1933 Beck produced his iconic underground  map - it is worth noting that initially his map was opposed on lack of reality grounds [4]

Reality-Engagement Balance

When things are going right the real world is very engaging but when they are not it is not. For simulations managing feelings is crucial [5] and involves moving away from thoughtlessly replicating reality.

Learning-Engagement Balance

A major benefit derived from simulation use and a design necessity is engagement. But, this can be at the expense of learning [6, 7 & 8]. Thus simulation design must balance learning (cognitive development) and with engagement.

The Movements

Hunter-Gatherer Movement

This movement concentrates on the development of a totally realistic model [9, 10 & 11)]. A focus that discounts the learning aspect (in fact it has been argued [12] that learning purpose is discovered after design.) Advocates of this movement argue that realism is “intrinsically motivating”  [13].

Such business simulations focus on photoreality and rely on engagement through content and natural learning.

I use the term hunter-gatherer because I see a design focus on realism (complexity) as primitive. It is like saying that to provide nourishment all you need is to provide the basic food (e.g. still warm mastodon). Although, probably, it will provide some nourishment, preparation is a major problem and, overall, it is not an efficient or complete meal.

Where a simulation is to provide mental nourishment, I believe that the design should focus on learning with the simulator provide support for the tutor (trainer) and the design taking into account the learning process. So, analogously, my a range of simulations and services cover everything from a ready meal to a completely prepared banquet. (Mastodon au poivre avec pomme frite et petit pois served with a 1987 Cabinet Sauvignon, lit by candles with romantic piano music in the background!) In other words we provide simulations for you to run and ones where we can run them for you (on your courses or at your business conferences).

So, a design that overly emphasises reality may do so at the expense of learning and engagement.

Serious Games Movement

Although, arguably, the term "serious game" can be applied to any business simulation, here I use the term to describe business simulations where the design is grounded in video game technology and concepts. Where these are graphically rich, fast moving fun. These are issues with this. First excessive graphics can detract from learning [14], second, excessive fun can detract from learning [15] and the pace of the simulation may mean that there is insufficient reflection and concept formulation [16]. Also, a key element of a Serious Game is competition and this (it has been argued ) can detract from learning [8]. Certainly, in my experience, the need to win can overwhelm the need to learn.

Such business simulations focus on the fun end of the engagement axis, with, perhaps, realism and learning being secondary.

So, a design that overly emphasises graphics and fun may do so at the expense of learning and realism.

Corporate Cartooning Movement

This is the artistic style used by me as, I feel, that it provides the best learning. Here the simulation is positioned at the by design end of the learning axis. This means realism and engagement are secondary (but still important). In terms of realism, my simulations are stylised and simplified where this improves and is necessary for learning and engagement, In terms of engagement, the focus is on challenge rather than mindless fun.

Although the simulation model is important we believe that the focus on the model (the hunter-gatherer paradigm) leads to long, unfocussed simulations where learning is left to chance.

I believe that the design must be directed towards providing effective, efficient and consistent learning, take into account development needs, duration, users and manner of use.

So, my designs do not just involve a suitable model but have tutoring support, versions to fit most training needs and take into account the dynamics of the learning system.

Having worked for forty years designing more than 65 business simulations and personally running them with business people more than 2000 times, I believe that design focus should be on learning (purpose and process), relevant reality and appropriate challenge.


[1] Bellman, Richard, Charles Clark, Cliff Craft, Don O. Malcolm and Franc Ricciardi (1957) On the construction of a multi-stage multi-person Business Game, The RAND Corporation.

[2] Hall, Jeremy J. S. B. (2009) Existing and Emerging Business Simulation-Game Design Movements, Developments in Business Simulation & Experiential Exercises, Volume 36, 2009 Reprinted in the Bernie Keys Library, 9th Edition [Available from]

[3] Hall, Jeremy J. S. B. (2011) Corporate Cartooning: the art, science and craft of computer business simulation design Hall Marketing, London

[4] Garland, Ken (1994) Mr. Beck's Underground Map Capital Transport Publications, St Leonards on Sea

[5] Hall, Jeremy and Benita Cox (1993) Computerised Management Games: the feedback process and servo-mechanism analogy, Simulation & Gaming Yearbook 1993 eds Fred Percival and Danny Saunders, Kogan Page London

[6] Cryer, P (1988) Managing and behaviour in educational games, simulations and workshops: a motivational perspective, Simulation/Games for Learning, 18(2)

[7] Jones, K (1984) Running, or stumbling through, simulations, Simulation/Games for Learning, 1984

[8] Lundy, J. (1984) The effects of competition in business games, Games and Simulations, 10.

[9] Miller, R and T Leroux-Demers (1992) Business Simulations: Validity and Effectiveness, Simulations/Games for Learning 22 4

[10] Decker, Ronald, James LaBarre and Thomas Adler (1987) The Exponential Logarithm Function as an Algorithm for Business Simulation, Developments in Business Simulation & Experiential Exercises, Volume 14, 1987, Reprinted in the Bernie Keys Library, 8th Edition [Available from]

[11] Chiesel, Newell E. (1979) The Dynamic Aspects of Interactive Gaming puts the Realism into Gaming, Developments in Business Simulation & Experiential Exercises, Volume 6, 1979, Reprinted in the Bernie Keys Library, 9th Edition [Available from]

[12]  Thavikulwat, Precha (2004) The architecture of computerized business gaming simulations Simulation & Gaming Volume 35 Number 2 June 2004

[13] Raybourn, Elaine M. (1997) Computer Game Design: New Directions for Intercultural Simulation Game Designers Developments in Business Simulations and Experiential Exercises, Volume 24 Reprinted in the Bernie Keys Library, 8th Edition [Available from]

[14] Sloutsky, Vladimir M., Jennifer A. Kaminski and Andrew F. Heckler (2005) The advantage of simple symbols for learning and transfer, Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 12 (3)

[15] Vroom, V (1978) The Nature of the Relationship between Motivation and Performance in Vroom, V and Deci, E (eds) Management and Motivation: selected readings Penguin

[16] Hall, Jeremy J. S. B. (1995b) Computerised Business Simulations: The Need for Unfriendly Interfaces Journal of Intelligent Systems Volume 5: Nos 2-4, Freund Publishing, London

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Most recent update: 09/04/12
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