A guide to sketch storming – a design game for ideation
4 minutes read
In September 1940, 18 year old Marcel Ravidat and three friends were walking in the woods near to their home in the Dordogne, Southwestern France. In the undergrowth, the group came across a strange hole in the ground. Driven by the fearlessness of youth, and with local stories of hidden treasure in their heads they decided to investigate further. They cautiously descended into the dark, steep and narrow shaft and crawling on their hands and knees descended 15 metres (about 50ft) into a cave. In the cave they discovered one of archaeology’s greatest ever finds, the 17,000 year old Lascaux cave paintings showing all manner of animals, figures and ancient stories.
What have 17,000 year old cave paintings got to do with UX you might wonder? Well they show that humans have been using sketches and illustrations to communicate and share stories, ideas and concepts for thousands and thousands of years. Sketches and Illustrations have been a part of every civilisation throughout the ages. From the hieroglyphics of ancient Egypt to the famous Bayeux Tapestry depicting the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England, it’s clear that to sketch and to draw is as human, as to talk, to walk, or indeed to fight. We are all natural born sketchers; you only have to see a toddler’s first tentative doodles with a pen or pencil to realise this. Long before we write, we sketch.
Harnessing this inherent sketching ability can be tricky. Many of us are now reluctant sketchers at the best of times and have perhaps forgotten the simple joy of sketching. I’ve written before about the importance sketching, and how great it is to re-discover that joy. One great way to harness the power of sketching is through the sketch storming design game. Here’s how.
Introduction to sketch storming
Sketch storming is a design game that is ideal for ideation workshops. It is loosely based on the game Pictionary, where by players must quickly sketch things, such as persons, objects, actions or animals, and the other players must guess what’s being sketched. Importantly players can’t use words or symbols, only the power of sketching. If you haven’t played Pictionary before I thoroughly recommend that you give it a go because it’s a brilliantly fun game to play. Seeing someone desperately try to sketch out ‘The Sex Pistols’ (an English punk band from the late 1970s) without causing gross offence to their fellow players is sure to bring a smile to anyone’s face.
Much like Pictionary, sketch storming players must sketch their ideas, but initially not use any words or symbols. Annotations are added later as sketches are guessed and discussed in a group.
Sketch storming is great for generating and discussing ideas, whether it’s ideas for innovations, for new products or services, or for improving an existing user experience.
What you need
Sketch storming is a very simple game to play. All you need are:
- Some willing players – teams of 2 to 7 work best.
- Lots of paper for sketching – A4 (US letter) works well.
- Blu tack (or similar) for sticking up sketches.
- Pens for sketching – try to avoid pencils as they often make sketches too faint to see from a distance and provide the temptation for erasing errant sketches.
- A venue – make sure that there is a wall for sticking sketches up on and enough desk or table space for all the players to sketch with comfort.
How to play
Sketch storming typically takes about 20 – 30 minutes and whilst it can be played as an exercise in it’s own right, I’ve found that it often works well as part of a wider workshop. It works well with a relatively small group, probably no more than 7, and can be played with users, with stakeholders, with team members, or even with friends down the pub. To play the game, simply follow these instructions:
- Gather players into teams of 2 – 7 players.
- For each team designate a facilitator to help capture the discussions that take place following the sketching.
- Introduce the problem being tackled. A good way to do this is to use the ‘How might we…’ question. For example, ‘How might we… ‘ increase our number of users? . ‘How might we…’ make it easier for users to do X, Y, or Z? ‘How might we…’ improve a particular KPI?
- Give players in each team 10 – 15 minutes to think about and then sketch out some ideas on paper. Importantly this is done individually, with no words or symbols to be used. Encourage players to sketch as many ideas as he or she can think of. The more, the merrier.
- Get players to stick their sketches up on the wall. The team then takes it in turn to guess and interpret each of the ideas (i.e. the Pictionary bit). The player who sketched an idea obviously isn’t allowed to guess their own sketch.
- As ideas are guessed and discussed the facilitator should capture notes and comments on post-it notes, or directly onto the sketches.
- After all the sketches have been guessed and discussed, there is the option to play another round to allow players to iterate and build on their ideas. You will need less time for follow up rounds. For example, only 5 minutes of sketching time is usually sufficient.
When to play
Sketch storming is a great game for initially coming up with lots of ideas. It can also be a very effective team building game and a great game for co-design with users, or with business stakeholders. It can be played throughout a project, but is particularly useful early on for coming up with lots of ideas and concepts to explore further.
Why it works
Sketch storming works because it’s fun, and because the sketching helps to get everyone’s creative juices flowing. The guessing element not only helps to make the game enjoyable, but also forces the group to discuss and share ideas. Because ideas are initially sketched individually, it gives everyone the opportunity to put their ideas forward and the annotated sketches provide a useful takeaway from the exercise.
If you want to have a go at playing the sketch storming game, you’ll find a link to a handy 1-page print out for players to use.
Sketch storming is just the first in a number of design games and exercises that I’ll be outlining. Coming up will be world’s worst, another great game for coming up with ideas and future review, a great game for project kick offs. Also check out some design games that I’ve previously blogged about:
- A guide to priority poker
- How to play the ‘Buy a feature’ design game
- WOW, HOW, NOW, POW design game
Also take a look at these other websites outlining lots of design and innovation games to try:
- Gamestoring – a toolkit for innovators, rule-breakers and changemakers
- Design games from UX Mastery and Donna Spencer
- Conteneo frameworks