You are a UX Designer. Your professional design process is somewhat mature, and you’re happy with how consistently it produces solid, realistic solutions for your product. Everything is very reasonable.
You are bored. Your team is slipping into complacency. Everyone says the word “innovation” a lot, but it’s been months since you really, really got outside of the box with design.
Time to stop everything, throw over your standard ideation deck, and get loose! So here are 4 ridiculous ideation exercises you can implement to foster imagination in your company.
1. Impossible Idea
What is impossible is still alluring
I love Impossible Idea because it really gets the creative juices flowing if you limit your ideation participants to think of only impossible ideas. No remotely plausible ideas allowed! This ideation can take the form of a Brain Dump, Sketch Dump, or combination thereof. What makes an idea not just bad, but actually not possible? You will get wildly creative ideas ranging from divine interventions and magic wands to conscripting an army of trained monkeys. These ideas will also all invariable be bad - and hilarious - so it’s a good lead-in to...
2. Worst Idea
Free your mind by heading in the wrong direction a little - or a lot
In my experience, Worst Idea is best after Impossible Idea because participants will start to think of bad ideas that are also possible (the best kind of bad ideas!). Worst idea is potentially even more fun than Impossible Idea because it can be truly delightful to think against our current mode of problem solving and for a moment be an agent of utter chaos. What kind of terrible ideas will your ideation participants generate? I have seen everything from snail mail or fax machines to bald-faced theft.
After doing Impossible Idea or Worst Idea, it can be very constructive to take a second as a group and silently reflect on what makes an idea bad. The expense it would incur? How angry it would make a user? How unethical it is? Hold on to these thoughts for later.
3. Really Crazy 8’s
Let yourself be wacky
Really Crazy 8’s is an extension of Worst Idea combined with the format of a standard Crazy 8’s. The ideation facilitator will prompt your participants to create something particularly bizarre that isn’t necessarily related to your product. Don’t be prescriptive about the solution, just the problem they are solving! For example, can they generate 8 sketches for a solution to dropping your toast butter-side down? How about 8 technology improvements for watching Youtube on your phone in the bathtub? 8 ways to solve that thing that happens when you try to pour liquid out of a container but it only dribbles down the side? The possibilities are endless and endlessly entertaining. Have fun with it!
4. Smart Process, Dumb Feature
Do the wrong thing the right way!
This is an Active Oversight original and an even further extension of Really Crazy 8’s. In this exercise you stage a mini design process from beginning to end around the idea of solving a very outlandish problem with a silly idea. Unlike the other exercises, which can be executed in two to eight minutes, I would recommend giving yourself at least 45 minutes to stage Smart Process, Dumb Feature. It’s best if you are able to reverse participant’s normal roles, such as having the developers act as designers and vice versa. Choose a bizarre problem to tackle just as you did in Really Crazy 8s (I need to clip my nose hair hands-free! I need to communicate with my dog over long distances!) and then run the group through research, kickoff, ideation, mocks, testing, and final criteria as you currently perform them in your organization. In the end, hold a short review session on the process itself to see what worked and what didn’t.
Running one or more of these exercises is a really great warm up to a more serious Design Studio or other activity such as a Design Sprint. They can also be used in meetings around design process changes to help the team conceptualize new elements of the process in a low-risk environment.
I strongly believe that some of the best, most practical and elegant solutions are often inspired by the most offensively terrible or creatively impossible ideas. One way to scaffold the transition between the bad and impossible to the good and very possible is to plan a team discussion afterwards around what makes an idea bad, impossible, or silly. Write out all the reasons your team comes up with (one per sticky note, of course) and you may find that you’ve generated more creative ideas and valuable information than you initially thought. It’s a great position from which to launch into a more standard ideation exercise!