The next time you have a boring brainstorming meeting on the agenda, broaden your team’s mental library with creative exercises. Everyone’s imagination — and the client — will thank you for it.
The following creative exercises are meant to vitalize those creative juices and give your team the brain food they crave to come up with that next great idea. Follow along below, or download these creative prompts for free.
We suggest dividing up the team into groups of twos, threes and fours, and then each team can fish out an exercise. The creative exercises contain suggested numbers of participants but feel free to modify. Afterward, reconvene and share experiences. You never know which creative discovery may inspire your next big design project.
- Searching for Creative Bliss? Follow along with 30 Days of Design Inspiration
1. Take a Ride on Imagination
While there have been significant strides made in the design of commercial buses, the fact is that most are built to accommodate dozens of passengers, their luggage and the necessities — like a driver. Only über-successful rock bands and well-known football commentators can afford their own private buses to hit the open road in style — until now. Have you ever dreamed of what it would be like to have your own tour bus?
If you had an unlimited amount of money and you were required to spend it on building the perfect luxury tour bus for you, what would it be like? That’s the task today, but it’s not just for you — it’s for you and two partners.
On your own, brainstorm design features and creature comforts you would have on your own bus. After you’ve jotted down a few ideas, come back together, share your ideas and design the bus interior on paper.
Find design books about creativity. These exercises are excerpted from “Caffeine for The Creative Team: 200 Exercises to Energize Your Next Brainstorm.”
There are a lot of coins out there, and they all have similar qualities and characteristics. Isn’t it time we redesigned the coin? (Say “yes.” Good answer!)
You and two partners are going to redesign a coin, one feature at a time. Start by drawing the shape, then pass the paper to the next person, who is charged with adding one feature. Pass it to the third person to add another feature. Go around a few times until it gets difficult to think of anything to add, then go around one last time adding features that may be a bit off the wall. Who knows, maybe kids in the 29th century will be collecting your creation.
3. I Spelled “Make the Logo Bigger”
In June 2006, 12 creatives from Wieden+Kennedy in Portland, OR, purchased 150,000 boxes of clear pushpins. Using the pushpins, they built a 14-foot mural that read, “Fail Harder,” a tribute to the philosophy of their creative director.
As remarkable as the feat was, it would have been ineffective if the words said “Make More Money” or “Design Rocks!” It was the simple but jarring message along with the execution that made it such a memorable piece.
Today, you and three partners will be doing something similar (although you won’t need pushpins, so the local office supply store need not be alerted). Each of you will need a camera for this exercise. But first, come together and decide on a theme. Choose a theme with meaning for your group, the way the “Fail Harder” message had meaning to the Portland creatives. It can be in relation to your place of business, to a principle or theory creatives value—anything vague enough to have personal perspective for each of you, yet meaning to the group.
When that theme has been established, each of you is to come up with your own word or term that describes or points to that theme. When you’ve decided on your word or term, grab your camera, go out into the community and shoot found typography for each letter of your word or term. When you’ve shot each letter separately, use your computer to assemble the pictures together to spell out the word or term. You’ll have to crop the images to put the letters close enough together to be read. Reassemble and share your creations.
4. Copy Conundrum
Ever wonder how people write whole songs when the task of writing a few lines of copy can rattle your brain for days? The lyrics are either so absurd that there’s no way they were conjured by a human brain, or they’re so brilliant that it’s impossible to imagine someone could write that powerfully. We’re going for the absurd part today, but we also understand that there’s a fine line between absurd and brilliant.
Grab three other budding lyricists. You and your partners are going to write a song. First, decide whether you want to write it verse-by-verse or line-by-line, and whether you want to write the whole song or just the chorus.
Next, designate the order in which you’ll write. The first person writes either one line of a verse, one line of the chorus or the entire chorus. The next person writes the next line or verse and so on until you’ve reached musical nirvana and are submitting unsolicited lyrics to LeAnn Rimes. Continue the cycle until the entire song is complete.
Suddenly, writing a few lines of copy may not seem like such a daunting task.
5. Go Play on the Cosmigraphotron
When’s the last time you went to a playground? Seriously? Playground equipment is virtually the same as it was 20 years ago.
Today’s kids spend more time with virtual reality video games and using handheld devices that play movies/games/music, wash the dog and clean their rooms for them. Technology is a huge part of a kid’s life.
How can the exercise, fitness and social interaction promoted by a playground compete with entertainment centers that fit in a kid’s pocket? That’s for you to decide.
Get at least three partners. Together, you’ll be creating a playground built for contemporary kids. You have everything and anything at your disposal. Each of you will create your own apparatus, and you’ll put them all together to make a playground. Keep in mind the various climates and ages the playground needs to accommodate. Either describe with words or draw with pictures your part of the perfect playground for technology-savvy kids.
6. Your team’s musical debut
In 1981, MTV brought music videos to the masses by starting the first 24-hour music video channel. Since then, videos have become a normal part of the commercial music landscape. Hordes of directors, producers and writers have cut their teeth on music videos.
You could produce a music video, couldn’t you? Aw, c’mon, you know you could. We know you could. As a matter of fact, you’re going to prove it right now.
Grab at least three partners, and among the four (or more) of you, choose a song for the group to use for the music video. Once you’ve decided on a song, divide up the chorus and the verses, each person getting one verse (or the chorus). When everyone has been given his or her respective lyrics, grab a digital camera and head out into the music-video lovin’ world to shoot an image (or series of images) to accompany each line of your verse or chorus. Print the images on full pages and reassemble for the screening of your new music video.
Hang all the photos on a wall or series of walls large enough to be able to put each verse or chorus in one horizontal line. When each person has placed their images in the right order, play the song with each person pointing to the appropriate photo at the appropriate time in the song. When the song is complete, call MTV and let them know your agent is waiting.
7. A picture worth 1,000 words
While one picture can do a lot, could it describe your entire day? How about part of your day? We’re about to find out.
You and two partners are each going to take one picture that encapsulates part of your morning, afternoon and evening. Take one picture for each portion that will completely sum up that part of your day. When you reconvene, put all the pictures on the table in a big pile and invite someone not in the group to come in and try to put the three pictures in order for each person.
8. Shotgun Doodling
Start off with 10 blank index cards each for you and a partner. Decide who goes first. One person quickly draws a squiggle on the index card and hands it to their partner, who has 10 seconds to make something out of the squiggle. Take no more than 10 seconds per squiggle, and move on. Do this for two minutes. The idea is to recognize shapes quickly and to do so without judgment. When the two minutes are up, switch roles and repeat this sequence for each index card.
9. Gather around for story time
Storytelling is at the heart of all communication. From brands to music, the ability to tell a well-crafted story is one of the purest art forms in history. Traditionally, though, we rarely use more than two or three of our senses to tell a story. Imagine if we could tell a story using all five senses. That would be a powerful story. It’s time to give it a shot.
You’re going to tell a five-part story, using a different sense for each part. The perfect number of participants for this exercise naturally is five, but you can divide up the five senses, with some taking on two or three parts of the story as needed.
The first step is to develop a story that takes advantage of all five senses. Collaborate to develop your story along one of these suggested story lines (or, if you’re short on time, pick an existing story that uses all five senses).
- The Agency Murder Mystery
- Love Between Chefs
- My Summer as a Rock ’n’ Roll Roadie
- Tailgating at the Super Bowl
- The Florist and the Fly
- Halloween Night
- The Short Life of a Bee
Once the group has chosen a story line, start developing a story that can be told in five parts using the senses for each. For instance, a photo or video could be used for the sense of sight. Something brought in that emits an odor could enhance the sense of smell. A tactile object would be used for the sense of touch, and so on.
Once you’ve developed your story and determined how each sense plays a role in that part of the story, divide up and acquire each of the things you need to tell the story. Reassemble with the items and lay them out in some way to “tell” the story.
Bring in people not involved with the group and take them down the line, letting them experience each part of the story using a different sense. Don’t reveal what the story is; ask them to tell you the story as they experience it. You can give them the title of the story as a guide to the type of tale it is, but then let them tell you what they’re thinking as they go. If your story uses chocolate chip cookies for one of the senses, be sure to have plenty on hand!
10. It’s all in the cards
Since the 12th century, folks have been playing games with cards. From solitaire to Texas Hold’em, we love card games. One of the reasons, of course, are the cool suits. What’s not to love about hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades? But, it’s time to add some spunk to playing cards.
You and three partners will be redesigning a deck of playing cards. Choose a theme below as your design guide:
- Rock ’n’ roll
- Video games
- Junk food
- Childhood toys
- Ancient Egypt
- House party
Wildcard (pick your own!)
Each person gets a suit based on the overall theme you’ve chosen. Design what the ace and five card of your suit would look like. If you’re feeling snappy, design new suit icons as well, ditching the traditional ones.
11. Start your quackers
There’s a powerful combination of speed and agility that has people all over the world spending inordinate amounts of money to take part. Of course, we’re talking about racing rubber ducks, but you knew that.
Racing and rubber ducks go together like peanut butter and hot dogs. They simply belong together. And today, you’re going to get the opportunity to compete at the highest level you’ve most likely ever competed at: the Super-Exclusive Regional Rubber Duck-Off.
Everyone in the group is each going to design (read: decorate) his or her very own rubber duck, then race said ducks to determine the Supreme Duck. You’ll need a rubber duck for each contestant, a body of water to race in and some rules.
You need to decide ahead of time if water current or design will power your ducks. If the only body of water you have available is a still body of water, you’ll need to engineer how the ducks will move, either by wind or by motor. If you have a body of water with a current, it’s advised to make this a duck-only affair, no propulsion needed.
Once each of you has designed the perfect racing duck, start the race and see who comes out as the Supreme Duck!
- The above exercises from an excerpt of the book “Caffeine for The Creative Team: 200 Excercises to Energize Your Next Brainstorm.” Get it now!
- It’s Creativity Week: Save big on design books about creativity and design, like “Caffeine for the Creative Team.”