Design play manifesto and resources for getting started
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The Design Play Manifesto

Even if this approach blows up big, has books written about it, takes over the business world, and becomes so distorted beyond its original meaning that it makes Agile look well-represented and crystal clear by comparison -- and especially then -- there is only one thing the Design Play Manifesto is trying to say and teach: you design better when you're having fun.

That's it.

Running a Design Play Meetup

The format works really well at an informal gathering. Follow these steps:

  1. Get everyone in a room
  2. Order food and drinks
  3. Assign a design task to the group
  4. Give the group time to work on the problem
  5. Share what you came up with

It doesn't sound like much, and that's by design. Here are some design prompts we've used in the past:

  • Design a door
  • Design Justin Bieber's career
  • Design a bathtub
  • Design the worst possible car
  • Design something that would make society healthier

A good way to get the group thinking is to ask about pain points with existing products. What bugs you about the doors in your office? What could work better in your bathtub?

Once the group starts talking, inertia kicks in. The group will come up with ideas. Let them talk. Let them explore. And then as the conversation starts to shift away from design and towards other topics, let it.

That's how a Design Play meetup works.

Running a Design Play Workshop

At UX Launchpad, we run Design Play workshops frequently for conferences or as part of an on-site class. Here's the structure we follow.

  1. "Things you can do with a brick" activity
  2. Design a temperature conversion app as a solo activity
  3. Share your temp conversion ideas with one other person
  4. Get into larger groups of 3-4 to finalize your conversion app
  5. Assign the day's design challenge
  6. Work solo
  7. Work in pairs
  8. Work in larger groups
  9. "Airports made of cake" activity to trigger lateral thinking
  10. Finalize concepts and ideas
  11. Share with the room

The key of the day is that it's set up in a series of circular activities. Dive into a new project on your own. Then share with one other person. Then move into a larger group. This approach comes from the book Quiet, which explains how introverts and extroverts can work together most effectively.

The first activity of the day, "Things You can Do With a Brick" simply asks the room to come up with ideas in one long list. This activity warms the room up and stresses that idea generation is about the quantity of ideas, not trying to find one perfect one.

The second activity is more tangible: how might we make an app that converts from Fahrenheit to Celsius. Again, we start solo, then move to pairs, then expand to the full group.

Finally, we get to the core task of the day. For a group of people that work together, we might prompt them to redesign one of their own apps. For a bunch of strangers, we might assign different groups different random prompts like a meet up.

After they've worked for a while, the "airports made of cake" activity teaches that random and off-the-wall ideas can sometimes lead to surprisingly novel design solutions.

Finally, at the end of the day, each group shares their thinking. This is an important part of design. It's important watching your idea be shared with a greater group and seeing how everyone responds so you can iterate further on the design.

And that's how a Design Play workshop works.

Running a Design Play conference

Design Play is an informal conference that we've done for three years. First in Seattle, then Quebec City, then Chicago. The format is simple.

  1. Get a bunch of creative people together in a city
  2. Find some creative things to do together
  3. Leave plenty of time for open conversation

And that's how we run the conference. It's a lot of fun. By design.