3 Creative Exercises to Kickstart a Killer Ideation Session

You wouldn’t skip breakfast because you want to eat lunch sooner, would you?

Tommy Campbell
3 min readOct 7, 2016


No, of course not. That’s precisely why executing effective warmups before your design team dives into ideation meetings for new product concepts, user experiences, or design sprints is paramount to the session’s success. The following lightweight activities are the creative equivalent of a dynamic warmup routine. They stretch your cognitive muscles, set the tone, and kickstart a killer ideation session.

Bad Ideas (5min)

There is no such thing as a bad idea (or a good idea) until you give it context. It is your duty as a team to fairly evaluate all ideas in their early form so as not to dismiss a promising one that arrives in disguise later on. This warmup exercise mutes the tendency to blindly reject new ideas by forcing team members to seek the benefits, upsides, and advantages of a controversial idea.

  1. Break your team into groups of no more than 3, and assign them an overly-obvious “bad” idea. Ex. ‘Egg-flavoured Toothpaste’, ‘Cardboard Umbrella’, ‘Styrofoam T-shirt’, ‘Steel-wool sweater’, ‘Invisible keys’.
  2. Give the groups 5 minutes to huddle and list as many possible benefits or selling points to their idea.
  3. Call each group to sell their “bad” idea to the room, by listing the benefits they discussed.

Narration (10 min)

Creative work demands adaptability. Pivoting, remodelling, completely scrapping and starting all over; these are activities inherent to design. As such, designers need to be able to roll with the punches, and beautifully integrate or accommodate the unforeseen.

  1. Break into huddles of 4, and ask one person from each team to stand up.
  2. Ask the standing members to improvise a narrative based on an object of your choosing (ex. moist towelette, yo-yo, gramophone, etc.), and tell a story to their huddle.
  3. Ask the members of each huddle to shout a new object at the narrator every few sentences, preferably just when it seems like they have a story arc in mind.
  4. The narrator must completely refocus the story on to the new suggestion.
  5. End the exercise when everyone has had a turn to narrate.

Left-hand Right-Hand Drawing (5mins)

This exercise was pioneered by Dr. Betty Edwards; an American art teacher and author, famous for her work in ‘Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain’. Essentially, the left hemisphere of our brain controls the right side of our body and specializes in logical, mathematic, and pragmatic thought. The right hemisphere controls the left side of our body and excels in creative, artistic, spatial, intuitive, and imaginative cognitive function. This warmup exercise was designed to reawaken both sides simultaneously in preparation for active brainstorming.

  1. Handout 1 blank piece of 8.5' x 11' printer paper to every member in the session. Have everyone grab 2 writing utensils, one for each hand.
  2. Start by instructing everyone to write their full name simultaneously with both hands in opposite directions. The result should look as if their hand writing is mirrored on each side of the page.
  3. At first, this exercise will prove to be quite difficult for most people in the room! Stress the importance of completing both illustrations in sync, this is when the brain will start to fire on both cylinders.
Got some quick learners? Push them to draw a scene from their day using this technique and share it with the group as if it were a historical piece of art.

Yes — all three of these warmup activities are silly and non-productive. And that’s what’s satisfying about them. The next time you lead a design sprint, take your team for a creative warmup lap. You’ll uncover a much grittier, and generative side of your actual ideation. Remember, there are no shortcuts to great design.



Tommy Campbell

Less is enough. Design — IKEA’s Future Living Lab