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Party Invitations

This game is credited to Cyd Harrell and has been used by Bolt Peters in several client brainstorming meetings.

Objective of play: Improve the onboarding process of a product or service.

Number of players: 5-30
Duration of play: 30-60 minutes

How to play:

  1. Everyone is handed a piece of paper and a marker.
  2. Participants are asked to imagine that the product/service being designed is a party or event and to create an invitation.
  3. Invitations should be as detailed and realistic as possible — they might include an inviting statement (“Join us for…”), what to bring, what the host (company) will provide, time, dress code, directions, RSVP info, and any other information guests might need to enjoy the party. It could also be done in the form of a Who, What, Where, When, Why invitation.
  4. Participants are encouraged to refine their invitations in multiple iterations. Allow at least 10-15 minutes for invitation writing.
  5. Once everyone has completed their invitations, the facilitator calls for ideas on each element of an invitation in turn:
    • What did you call the party?
    • Did anybody have a dress code?
    • What did you say about refreshments?
    • What do guests need to bring?
    • What is the party actually for?
    • How will guests get there?
  6. Next, participants read through their invitations in turn. The facilitator takes notes and posts the themes on a white board.
  7. After everyone has presented, participants jointly narrow and refine the ideas, keeping in mind things like:
    • What metaphors have emerged? How might they contribute to ideas for the onboarding experience?
    • Which elements are crucial to the invitation?
    • Which ideas represent the right feel for the brand and offering?
  8. Finally, the facilitator engages the group in sketching or another idea generation process to implement the refined invitation as a draft of the onboarding process.
An example party invitation.

Strategy:
This is essentially a metaphor-generation game that allows participants to imagine how they want to engage their audience. Detail is good, and players who go whole-hog with imagining their party as anything from a white-tie gala to a potluck are likely to be successful as long as they carry it through. Interesting discussions will ensue when participants go for different versions — are we a come as you are party or do we have a festive dress code? Must you RSVP or can you just show up?

Why invitations?
At
Bolt Peters, we often think of successful technology products as being more than just friendly. They are literally inviting — asking their audience to use them, rewarding them when they do, and asking again for higher levels of use and engagement. When deploying a conversion funnel, especially for gradual engagement, an enticing and escalating invitation is a critical piece of the puzzle.

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Air Time Mastermind

Air Time Mastermind with Maverick Business Adventures members


Object of play:

Brainstorm multiple solution and answers to participants pressing problems…while feeling like a 7-year old again.

Number of players: 10-50

Duration of play: 30 minutes – 1.5 hours

How to play:

1.    Everyone is handed a piece of construction paper.
2.    At the top of one side, participants are asked to write their biggest, most pressing problem the group can assist with and then their name on the reverse side.
3.    Ask participants to be as specific as possible with the question. (i.e. “What low or no-cost ways can I increase referrals for my service business?”)
4.    Make sure participants leave enough space below their question for multiple answers.
5.    Have people start folding their paper airplane with the question ending up the inside of the folds.
6.    Recommend each person decorate their plane individually to be able to find it later on.
7.    Once everyone has completed their airplanes it’s time to fly! Have everyone stand up and toss their planes into the wild blue yonder!
8.    Each participant grabs an airplane that doesn’t belong to them and unfolds it.
9.    Next, participants read through the question inside the airplane and provide their best answer. Make sure participants place their name or initials (for smaller groups) next to their response.
10.    Allow 3 minutes for answers and then call time.
11.    Participants (hopefully) re-fold their paper airplane and re-launch them.
12.    The cycle repeats for as many rounds as time available or until someone pokes an eye out.
13.    If a participant gets the same airplane twice they should switch with a neighbor.
14.    At the end of the flying time – each participant retrieves their winged worksheet.
15.    Facilitator asks for volunteers or selects individuals to present questions that have universal appeal to the audience and start group discussion.
16.    (Optional) Silly prizes given for best flying plane, sorriest looking plane, best design, etc.

Strategy:
Questions dictate your answers and getting answers from an assortment from different people gives participants another vantage point to their ideal solution. Also, instead of a group setting, some quieter participants with good ideas are now ‘heard’ since they have introspective time to come up with responses. What’s more, since everyone has signed their name or initials to their answer, participants will naturally engage in private conversations later on.

Refinement:
You can customize the game based on a particular meeting theme. Recently for a Maverick World Cup adventure & business excursion, we used inflatable soccer balls and had participants tape index cards to the soccer ball before kicking them. We called the game “Kickin’ It!” (Like kicking their biggest business problem.)

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Video Card Family Game

Video capture

Object of Play:  Co-create products or services using design insights gained from collaborative analysis of key frames of peoples’ activities from video clips recorded during ethnographic field work.

 Number of Players: 6 – 12

 Duration of Play: 7 – 8 hours

Required Resources: The Video Card Family Game requires use of a video camera (perhaps a smartphone), video editing software, graphics software, desktop publishing software, index card printing stock paper, and a printer (preferably color).

 Preparing to Play: The Video Card Family Game is a research technique useful in promoting collaboration among design team members and people engaged in the front-end design process. It uses video recording as a visualization resource for ethnographic fieldwork, especially participant observation among stakeholders (typically a product innovation team) and people who will use the product or service. The preparation time depends on the nature of the project as well as the logistics of the field work.

Ethnographic field work, in the simplest terms, means going to where the people of interest gather to share in their experience and analyze it. Designers use participant observation to co-create insights for product and service design by experiencing the peoples’ activities involved, such as working in their own context, or staging an environment in which people perform the activities of interest using mock-ups or prototypes.

1. To prepare for the Video Card Family Game, the facilitator edits the video into segments of no more than two minutes each. The importance of participant observation comes into play during the selection of video segments. Participant observers select video segments using insights about what is significant that they gained during the field work.

Note: It is important to select video segments in which actions, rather than conversations, are primarily occurring. You want, predominantly, to see what people do rather than hear what they say they do. In other words, focus on video where people are involved in physical action.

2. Save each video segment with a unique file name.

 3. Select a key frame from each video segment and give it a unique identifier.

 4. Create a video card by copying the key frame for each segment and pasting it into two corresponding index cards in your stock paper template. Give both cards the same title. Number both cards with the same unique identifier. Leave a comment area either below, or beside, the picture depending on how you layout the index cards.

Note: The image from the key frame may need resizing in a graphics editor before pasting it onto the index card stock paper template. You paste the image on two index cards to produce duplicate video cards.

5. Print  the duplicate video cards and place each in a separate stack.

 6. Repeat steps 2-5 for each video segment.

Note: The number of video cards created from the two-minute segments provides a degree of objectivity in the selection process. Ideally, each game player receives a stack of 10 video cards.

How to Play:

 (Allocate one hour for Steps 1 – 5 of playing the game)

1. Explain the rules of the game by providing a synopsis of steps 2 – 10 in the game play.

2. Provide players with instructional guidance on the difference between observing action in video and interpreting action.

Note: Observations come from descriptions of who is engaged in the action, what they are doing, where they are doing it, when they do it, and how they do. Interpretations involve assertions about why particular people do what they do when and where they do it. At times though, how they do it applies to interpretation when it relates to why the action occurs.

3. Group the players into pairs and provide each group with duplicate stacks of video cards.

4. Play the video segments corresponding to each video card in the duplicate stacks provided to each pair of players.

Note: Instruct the game players in each group to review the video segments in their group but not to discuss them with their partner.

5. Ask players in each group to take observational notes regarding what happens in the video segment corresponding to a video card. The idea here is for each player to personalize their video cards through writing notes on them, making them tangible research artifacts to handle and use in design discussions.

(Allocate 30 minutes for Step 6)

6. Ask each pair of players to discuss what they saw in the video segments and arrange their video cards into “families” that share a theme, before placing them on a table. Any theme is appropriate as long as it makes sense for the design focus of the game.

(Allow 1 hour for Steps 7 – 8 )

7. Ask each player to choose a favorite “family” of video cards from those they identified with the other player in their group. Doing so makes that player responsible for relating the design focus to user input as exhibited in the resulting “family” of video cards.

8. Attach each favorite “family” of video cards to a poster and write a heading for the theme it represents. Organize the video segments corresponding to each “family” for easy review.

(Allow 3 – 4 hours for Step 9)

9. Bring all the players from all the pair groups back together with their posters. Ask each player to describe and show their favorite “family” of video cards and invite other players who think their video cards fit, or resemble, the theme to add them to that family.

Note: The game property of the play comes to bear at this step, since the idea of the game is to pass as many cards from your stack to others as possible. The player describing their favorite “family” attempts to avoid further additions to their theme by playing the relevant video segment and explaining why the proposal to add another video card does not fit. No single player has seen all the video segments. Therefore, accepting or rejecting a video card for each theme depends on all the players reviewing the video segment from which the video card proposed for addition is drawn.

 (Allow 1 hour for Step 10)

10.  Document the themes by having members of each group write a structured description using the following format:

  • Describe the theme
  • Describe why it belongs in the family you assigned it to
  •  Provide at least two examples
  • Describe the way the action occurs in context
  • Describe the way people employ the action in the context

Strategy

Video of people’s activity is one of the most challenging resources used in design research. Playing and replaying video segments for review is time consuming and, depending on the number of people involved and the type of activity recorded, difficult to distill into agreed upon insights. The Video Card Game’s design provides a collaborative structure for interaction between designers and users to co-create insights for product and service design from video sources.

When playing the Video Card Family Game, facilitators need to remember that, even though the video cards give the video a tangible mode of expression, the images remain on relatively small cards, whether on the surface of a table or attached to a poster on the wall. One can imagine an interactive wall display like Microsoft’s Surface that minimizes the legibility problem. Short of such a solution however it is important to keep in mind the logistical limitations imposed by rendering video representations of action onto video cards.

Provenance

The Video Card Family Game draws from the “Happy Families” children’s card game, a game in which players collect families of four cards as they ask one another in turn for cards of a particular archetype. The goal of “Happy Families” is to collect a family of four cards, forming a stack. Collecting the most stacks makes you the winner.

Werner Sperschneider, a user-centered designer, at the Danish industrial manufacturer, Danfoss A/S, created the initial version of the Video Card Game as a method for combining ethnographic and visual research methods using video.  Design researchers, Margot Brereton, Jared Donovan, Stephen Viller, at the University of Queensland, as well as Jacob Buur and Astrid Soendergaard, of  the University of Southern Denmark, and the University of Aarhus, respectively, also provide case studies of its use.

The rendition of the game offered here refers to it as the Video Card Family Game for the explicit purpose of making it clear that Ludwig Wittgenstein’s concept of family resemblance is a key criteria in the gaming process for deciding to which themes a video card belongs.


Larry Irons is a Principal at Customer Clues, LLC. Larry practices Experience Design — translating strategic business goals, and the complex needs of people, into exceptional experiences for those who provide products and services, and those who consume them, whether the latter are customers, users, learners, or just plain people. He writes the blog, Skilful Minds, which blogs.com listed as one of the top ten Customer Experience blogs in 2009. Skilful Minds is also listed in the top 99 Workplace eLearning blogs by eLearning Technology.

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Image-ination

Object of Play: To generate new ideas about a topic you feel stuck on.

# of Players: 5-7 per group

Duration of Play: 15 minutes ‑ 1 hour

How to Play:

  1. Before the meeting, assemble a collection of photographs and images that do not contain words. You can cut them out of magazines, catalogs, or junk mail. Don’t look for pretty pictures; instead look for the widest variety of pictures. Try to collect 3-5 pictures per person.
  2. Put a large sheet of paper on the table; a piece of flip-chart paper is ideal. In the center, write out a one- to three-word description of the topic you want to generate new thinking around (e.g., Finding New Customers).
  3. Place the pictures face down around the edges of the paper.
  4. Give each person a pile of sticky notes or index cards.
  5. Tell the participants that the goal of the game is to encourage thinking as widely as possible. The idea is to go beyond what they already know. Demonstrate this by showing an image and quickly state several ways it relates to the topic.
  6. Have each participant randomly select an image, turn it over, and write on the sticky notes or index cards as many ideas as they can come up with about how the image relates or could relate to the topic. Ask each participant to put one idea on each note or card and put it on the flip-chart paper around the topic.
  7. Allow five minutes for participants to work silently. Have people select other images and repeat the process until you either run out of images or time.
  8. Ask the group to collect the notes and cards with all of the ideas and re-arrange the ideas in clusters that relate to each other. For each cluster, ask the group to find a photograph to illustrate the idea and create a short title for it. Write the title under the image.
  9. If you have more than one small group, ask each one to share the photos and titles of each of their clusters with the other groups.
  10. Have a conversation about how the titled photos can inform the groups’ thinking about the topic. Make a list of possible actions they could take in response to the ideas.

Strategy:

Images have the ability to spark insights and to create new associations and possible connections. Encourage people to allow themselves to free-associate and see potential new ideas. In this type of play, you are asking people to move back and forth between using their visual and verbal skills. When done in rapid succession, as in this game, this switching offers the possibility for more ideas and approaches to emerge.

When leading the game, some participants may need to be reassured that the goal is not to come up with a design or specific answer. Keeping Image-ination time frames short reduces this ability and requires people to allow associations to emerge from a less-considered space. After all, if what everyone was already thinking could readily solve the problem, the group would not feel stuck. The idea is to move beyond the stories people always tell and to surface something new and different.

You may hear that people can’t find the picture they want to describe their ideas. That’s actually a good sign! That “problem” actually means the participants have the creative opportunity to find another kind of association.

Imagine-ation is adapted from the Visual Icebreaker Kit, one of several image-based games and tools from VisualsSpeak. It is © 2010 VisualsSpeak LLC.

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The Pitch

Geneva workshop

Object of play

It is easy to come up with concepts in a world of imagination, where money, time and technical capacity are unlimited, or to generate ideas that look good in theory, but are impractical in reality. The Pitch is a role playing game designed to bring attention back to real world and focus on feasible and viable aspects of concepts (What are the key selling points? How can this make money? Why will people buy it?). The players need to imagine that they are entrepreneurs and that need to sell their idea to a group of rich venture capitalists (VCs).

Number of players: 4 – 12

Duration of play: 30  minutes to 1.5 hour

How to play

1.  Divide people into small groups, ideally pairs or triads. One group should take the role the VCs, while the others are ‘entrepreneurs’.

2.  A product or service is defined and agreed by the group.

3. Individually, each group spends 10 minutes formulating their pitch to be presented to the VCs. They can write, draw and rehearse: the creation is really up to each group. Ideally they should be in separate rooms or breakout spaces while creating the pitches

4.  All groups should be aware that one or two representatives will present the pitch verbally to the VCs but the whole group will answer their questions. It is also important to cap preparation time (around 10 minutes is good), since over-elaborating an idea can take away the true nature of their thoughts.

5.  Towards the end of the preparation time, the VCs give groups a time-warning: ‘You have 2 minutes prep remaining’.

6.  Each group then presents their pitch – a time limit (3 minutes) is given for each presentation and the VCs can ask up to two questions each.

7.  It’s not essential, but to add a sense of competition, the VCs can decide which pitch is the winner at the end.

Strategy

The idea behind this game is to capture the different perspectives that different groups have about a product, prototype, service or concept. Preparing a pitch to a venture capitalist obliges participants to focus on the really important ideas and the time limit helps them to concentrate on the core of the proposition. Because different groups will emphasize different aspects, it also provides a range of perspectives on the main idea being discussed. The questions the VCs ask usually expose weak points or help clarify ideas, which can then be shared and discussed by the group.

This game is also good for capturing the type of language people use to define a concept, product, service or situation, so you should encourage participants not to over-think the words they use in their pitch. If participants don’t know each other, it’s interesting to make a competition out of it, and even offer a prize to the winner: the shared goal of ‘winning the game’ usually brings teams together quickly.

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Random Inputs

Node generation

NAME OF PLAY: Random Inputs
Object of Play:
To generate random thinking and new ideas around any topic you choose.
# of Players: 5 – 10
Duration of Play: 30 minutes – 1 hour
How to Play:
Before the meeting, generate a list of 50-75 random nouns. You can do this however you see fit, but try to ensure that the nouns are NOT contextually based on the players’ work.
Write each word on an individual slip of paper and put all of them in a container you can draw from blindly.
In a white space visible to all the players, write the topic of the play (ex. a new ad campaign) and give all players access to sticky notes – enough that they can generate potentially a dozen ideas per word.
Tell the players that the goal of the game is to come up with ideas that are outside of the default thinking around the product or service. Tell them that the connections they make with the words can and should be expansive, even silly at first glance. Offer examples to clarify the kind of output you’re looking for.
Draw the first word from your container and read it outloud to the players. Then draw a picture of it in the white space (even if you don’t really know how to.)
Give everyone five minutes to quietly write on sticky notes any ideas they have related to the topic and inspired by the word.
Ask the players to post all of their ideas in the white space.
Repeat this process for the each word you pull from your container and keep going until you and the players feel like you’ve generated enough ideas to get traction on your topic.
Strategy:
This play is powerful because the inputs are random, so it’s important that the list of words you generate before the meeting adheres to the principle of randomness as best it can. If you start compiling words that people associate with the topic, you’ll get ideas that the players have had many times before, which is the antithesis of the desired outcome. So make sure your data is decently scrubbed. And if you want to include others in building the list as a way to get them excited before the game, ask each player to submit her own words. But you’ll need to request that the words be unrelated to the usual workplace vernacular. One way to avoid getting the same words (and the same ideas) is to invite players from other areas in the organization, who wouldn’t normally be involved in the brainstorm around the topic you chose. Some of the best ideas come from unexpected places, right?
As the person leading the game, when you announce each random word you may find that you have no idea how to draw representations of them. Draw them anyway. This helps to create a space in which players recognize that their contributions won’t be judged harshly. It matters not only as a basic facilitative technique but also because this game works best when people take risks and post up what can appear to be odd contributions. To encourage bravery, take some risks of your own and be aware that there are certain tendencies the players may have that can stifle the creative process.
For example, after they hear a word, players may attempt to go through a series of steps to relate the word to the product or service: “An airplane reminds me of wind which reminds me of blue which reminds me of the trademark blue of our product.” But there’s no creativity in that – the player’s just retreading an established path. Other tendencies players may have are to rearrange the letters of the word to create another word they associate with the topic or to create an acronym that describes the topic. This is a creative copout. You want people to forge creative, not methodical, paths from the random word to the topic. Sometimes it can be a direct leap; other times it can meander. But encourage them to create anew. Assure them that there are no “left-field” comments and that this play is most effective when people take creative leaps of faith.
If you end up with the opposite challenge – you have a group that jumps right in and starts having crazy fun –  let them be energetic but also help them maintain focus on the topic. Give the players enough time to generate lots of ideas but not so much time that they’re no longer connecting the word back to the product/service. With a game this juicy, it can happen.
This game is an adaptation of Edward do Bono’s exercise called ‘Random Input’ from Creativity Workout: 62 Exercises to Unlock Your Most Creative Ideas.

NAME OF PLAY: Random Inputs

Object of Play: To generate random thinking and new ideas around any topic you choose.

# of Players: 5 – 10

Duration of Play: 30 minutes – 1 hour

How to Play:

  1. Before the meeting, generate a list of 50-75 random nouns. You can do this however you see fit, but try to ensure that the nouns are NOT contextually based on the players’ work.
  2. Write each word on an individual slip of paper and put all of them in a container you can draw from blindly.
  3. In a white space visible to all the players, write the topic of the play (ex. a new ad campaign) and give all players access to sticky notes – enough that they can generate potentially a dozen ideas per word.
  4. Tell the players that the goal of the game is to come up with ideas that are outside of the default thinking around the product or service. Tell them that the connections they make with the words can and should be expansive, even silly at first glance. Offer examples to clarify the kind of output you’re looking for.
  5. Draw the first word from your container and read it outloud to the players. Then draw a picture of it in the white space (even if you don’t really know how to.)
  6. Give everyone five minutes to quietly write on sticky notes any ideas they have related to the topic and inspired by the word.
  7. Ask the players to post all of their ideas in the white space.
  8. Repeat this process for the each word you pull from your container and keep going until you and the players feel like you’ve generated enough ideas to get traction on your topic.

Random-Inputs

Strategy: This play is powerful because the inputs are random, so it’s important that the list of words you generate before the meeting adheres to the principle of randomness as best it can. If you start compiling words that people associate with the topic, you’ll get ideas that the players have had many times before, which is the antithesis of the desired outcome. So make sure your data is decently scrubbed. And if you want to include others in building the list as a way to get them excited before the game, ask each player to submit her own words. But request that the words be unrelated to the usual workplace vernacular. One way to avoid getting the same words (and the same ideas) is to invite players from other areas in the organization, who wouldn’t normally be involved in the brainstorm around the topic you chose. Some of the best ideas come from unexpected places, right?

As the person leading the game, when you announce each random word you may find that you have no idea how to draw representations of them. Draw them anyway. This helps to create a space in which players recognize that their contributions won’t be judged harshly. It matters not only as a basic facilitative technique but also because this game works best when people take risks and post up what can appear to be odd contributions. To encourage bravery, take some risks of your own and be aware that there are certain tendencies the players may have that can stifle the creative process.

For example, after they hear a word, players may attempt to go through a series of steps to relate the word to the product or service: “An airplane reminds me of wind which reminds me of blue which reminds me of the trademark blue of our product.” But there’s no creativity in that – the player’s just retreading an established path. Other tendencies players may have are to rearrange the letters of the word to create another word they associate with the topic or to create an acronym that describes the topic. This is a creative copout. You want people to forge creative, not methodical, paths from the random word to the topic. Sometimes it can be a direct leap; other times it can meander. But encourage them to create anew. Assure them that there are no “left-field” comments and that this play is most effective when people take creative leaps of faith.

If you end up with the opposite challenge – you have a group that jumps right in and starts having crazy fun –  let them be energetic but also help them maintain focus on the topic. Give the players enough time to generate lots of ideas but not so much time that they’re no longer connecting the word back to the product/service. With a game this juicy, it can happen.

Note: This game is an adaptation of Edward do Bono’s exercise called ‘Random Input’ from Creativity Workout: 62 Exercises to Unlock Your Most Creative Ideas.
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Show and Tell

Geneva workshop

While it’s enjoyable and worthwhile to discuss the ideas behind Gamestorming, it’s more useful to experience them. The image below represents output from a visual-thinking game that you can “play” with your employees.

Caution: Adults have a tendency to link Show and Tell to child’s play. This is a learning faux pas. It’s right up there with underestimating the value of doodling. And now we know what’s wrong with that: Take Note: Doodling can Help Memory.

OBJECT of the GAME: To get a deeper understanding of stakeholders’ perspectives on anything—a new project, an organizational restructuring, a shift in the company’s vision or team dynamic, etc.

HOW TO PLAY:

  1. A few days in advance of a meeting, ask employees to bring an artifact for Show and Tell. The instructions are to bring something that, from their perspective, is representative of the topic at hand. If possible, tell them to keep the item hidden until it’s their turn to show it at the meeting.
  2. In a white space visible to everyone, write the name of the game and the topic. If you wish, draw a picture of either.
  3. When everyone is assembled with their show piece, ask for volunteers to stand up and show first.
  4. Pay close attention to each employee’s story of why she thought an item represented or reminded her of the topic. Listen for similarities, dif­ferences, and emotional descriptions of the item. Write each of these contributions in the white space and draw a simple visual of the item the person brought next to her comments.
  5. Summarize what you’ve captured in the white space and let the group absorb any shared themes of excitement, doubt or concern. Ask follow-up questions about the content to generate further conversation.

WINNING STRATEGY: Show and Tell taps into the power of metaphors to reveal players’ underlying assumptions and associations around a topic. If you hear a string of items that are described in concerned or fearful terms, that’s likely a signal that the employees’ needs aren’t being met in some way. As the team lead, encourage and applaud honesty during the stories and write down every point an employee makes that seems important to him or her. Keep the rest of the group quiet while someone is showing and telling.

As the group facilitator, if you feel intimidated by drawing a representation of a show item in the white space, get through it: attempt to draw it anyway and let the group tease you about your efforts. Show and Tell can be a vulnerable activity for employees—particularly the introverted type—so show some team spirit by being vulnerable in your leadership role.

Show-and-Tell