The power of play: how to bring creativity to product design and development
August 23, 2022
Be inclusive and empathetic in your approach
The suggestions in this post are all about trying new things, experimenting, and thinking creatively. For some people, mixing up their environment and routine can create a hotbed for new perspectives and good ideas. For others, however, new routines and activities can lead to stress and ultimately reduce creativity — some people simply work better in more predictable environments.
You can (and should!) still mix things up, but it’s best to give everyone a heads up before trying something new. When you set expectations and give your team time to prepare for workshops and other deviations from the norm, you’re giving them the opportunity to show up as their best selves.
After you try something new, get your team’s feedback on it and adjust accordingly. To gather honest feedback about bigger initiatives, like workshops, you can use our Rose, Thorn, Bud template at the end of the session.
Most importantly, focus on creating psychological safety. Psychological safety describes a team culture built upon mutual respect in which people are comfortable speaking their minds, taking risks, and trying new things without fear of repercussions. Psychological safety is built over time, so try incorporating new ideas gradually and see what works best for your team.
Liven up your meetings
Start your meetings with an icebreaker activity to get everyone engaged right off the bat. By allowing people to reset, relate to one another, and connect on more informal terms, icebreakers can help create psychological safety and boost creativity.
Use icebreakers when you need to:
Encourage participation in hybrid meetings
Build connection among your team
Make meetings more engaging
Replace pre-meeting small talk with something more fun and inclusive
Research has shown that music can have a positive impact on creativity and cognition. In particular, a 2017 study demonstrated that “happy music” boosted divergent thinking — which they define as “producing multiple answers from available information by making unexpected combinations, recognizing links among remote associates, or transforming information into unexpected forms.”
Use music when you need to:
Set a mood for your meeting
Transition between speakers or activities in a meeting
Energizers are a type of icebreaker that helps reload energy on your team. They often involve body movements and shouting, encouraging us to express our silly side and take ourselves less seriously. Physical activity has been shown to boost creative thinking, and a 2012 experiment essentially found (and I'm paraphrasing here) that wiggling around helps people generate more original ideas. No kidding.
Use energizers when you need to:
Encourage people to embrace their goofy side
Reenergize your team during a long workshop
Combat Monday morning sluggishness or the afternoon slump
A storyboard is a visual device used to demonstrate a narrative or illustrate a concept by showing panels of your story in a linear order. Because storyboards are built using images, they can help teams communicate ideas more clearly and evocatively than words alone. Storyboards don’t have to be masterful pieces of artwork; even the most basic drawings can help you envision the possibilities of new experiences and get aligned on the right path forward.
This exercise from LUMA encourages your team to look at common things in uncommon ways by asking the question “What would ____ do?” This is a great way to break from conventional thinking and jump-start your team’s creativity.
A cover story mock-up is a mock news article describing the successful future of your product or a new idea. This framework is a great way to promote a shared vision, gain support from decision-makers, and inspire your team.
Try this activity when you need to:
Envision what success might look like
Think big without self-imposed limitations
Get aligned on a product vision
Get your team inspired about the future of the product
A mind map is a brainstorming tool designed to help you visually track, organize, and structure your thoughts and ideas. Mind maps are diagrams with ideas branching from one central concept or idea, and are designed to organize information and synthesize ideas.
This game is designed to help elicit the truth about what people value, not just what they say they value. It’s a method for prioritization provides people with a limited amount of currency that they can use to “purchase” what they prioritize the most. The resulting decisions are valuable in assessing what features or concepts should be present in the final design.
Use this activity when you need to:
Conduct user research
Understand what your users value the most (and why)
The Design for Delight Method is a set of principles that Intuit uses to innovate and solve their customers’ challenges. It’s rooted in design thinking and provides a customer-centered approach to problem solving.
Use this method when you need to:
Conduct user research
Explore a variety of possible solutions to a problem
“The problem with anything that requires creative and critical thinking,” writes Jonathan Courtney, the creator of AJ&Smart’s Lightning Decision Jam, “is that it’s easy to get lost, lose focus, and fall into the trap of having useless, open-ended, unstructured discussions.” This leads to frustrated team members, busted budgets, missed deadlines, and lackluster releases — “all because the team is so fatigued from working on endless, unprioritized problems.”
That’s where the LDJ comes in. It’s designed to replace all open, unstructured discussion with clear process.
Shauna Ward is a senior content marketing manager at MURAL. As a former remote work skeptic, she enjoys creating resources that help hybrid and distributed teams make collaboration fun, easy, and effective.