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Object Brainstorm

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Object of Play

Objects play a special role in brainstorming. A tangible object helps externalize the thought process, just as sketching or role play does, but often in a more immediate and concrete way. Because objects suggest stories about how they might be used, they make a great starting point for free association and exploration.

Number of Players

Any

Duration of Play

30 minutes or more

How to Play

Before you can play, you will need to hunt down a collection of objects. Nominate yourself as the curator of your collection. It’s worth considering what kind of investment you want to make. Although a trip to a second-hand store to find interesting (and cheap) items is a good start, if you are expecting to make a habit out of the exercise it may be worth the time and expense to look for items more broadly.

Although you will find your own criteria for your collection, one rule of thumb is to collect “things that do things.” Functional objects can offer more inspiration. Other things may make it into the collection based on their characteristics or personality, or simply because they are “fun.” Here are some types of objects to consider collecting:

• Kitchen gadgets

• Hand tools

• Instruction manuals

• Functional packaging and dispensers

• Containers and compartments

• Sports equipment

• Toys and games

A good collection will evolve over time, and a good curator will get others involved in contributing to the cache of items.

Object brainstorming starts with a question, such as “How will the next generation of [fill-in-the-blank] work?” This question may ask participants to reimagine an existing product or invent something new.

1. Direct the group to explore the objects and to take some time to play with them.  The objects may inspire participants to think about how a new thing could function, or how it could look or feel. The long, hinged mouth of a stapler may suggest a new way to bend and fasten steel. A telescoping curtain rod might inspire thinking about a collapsible bicycle. Likewise, an object’s personality, such as a rugged toolbox, might suggest how a laptop might be designed. Most objects explain themselves, and the results can be very intuitive; participants are likely to stumble on fully formed ideas.

2. After a set amount of time, the participants share their ideas, document them, and decide on next steps. This may be as simple as voting on an idea to pursue in more detail, or it may mean moving into another brainstorming exercise.

Strategy

One choice to make before an object brainstorm is whether to use a set of items or a single item. This changes the depth of focus: a group presented with a set will branch into a wider path of ideas, whereas a group presented with one item is “forced” into a deeper study of the object and associations from it, along the lines of random inputs or forced analogy. Try to use a set of items for larger groups and more divergent brainstorming, and a single item for smaller groups and more focused inquiry.

The source for the Object Brainstorm game is unknown.

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