A list of creative exercises for creative teams


Every Friday afternoon, the Product Experience team at Foursquare gets together and ends the week with a creative exercise. The PX team is a big mash-up of visual designers, UX, copy, research, and product operations, and it’s a lot of people’s favorite meeting of the week. Our team aspires to be imaginative in our approach to problem solving, and we’ve found it is a great way to keep pushing a consistent vein of creative freedom in our work.

Here’s how it works. Each week, a different person on the team is the PXhibit meeting lead, and they come up with the exercises and lead the meeting. Because we’re a large and diverse team, the breadth of exercises is pretty wide, as are the results (the links below all lead to very weird photos). We generally spend about half the time doing the exercise, and then go around and everyone shares what they did. And then everyone goes home for the weekend, hopefully a bit happier and inspired!

The team experiences real benefits, too. With a group as large as ours working across multiple products and platforms, it helps to have everyone focus on the same thing, and to walk each other through their processes once a week. And people get to step outside the feature or screen they’re working on and think about different problems creatively.

A bunch of other design and product team leads have asked me for a list of the exercises we’ve done, so they can do them with their teams. Because it’s been useful to them, I figured I’d share it here. Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions, or have ideas for other exercises to add.

These are presented in the order we did them (over the last two years), with great thanks to each member of our team who came up with these ideas.

  • Make your sandwich // Design the sandwich that reflects your personality. Here are two gems: The Healy (it’s smoking a cigarette) and The Snakes (which includes a bottle of whiskey).
  • Blind portraits // Everyone pair off and draw each other’s faces (5 minutes each) without looking at the paper once. Some surprisingly coherent ones (and not).
  • Draw a new interface for an office object // Take printed out photos of things in the office (a urinal, a sink, a desk, a beer tap) and give each person a sheet of glassine paper to lay over it. Then draw a new interface for the object. Fast Company wrote a fun article about this one, with a lot of photos from the day.
A recycle bin that gets really really mad when you don’t recycle.
  • Design a watch face // Create a new type of information display for the Pebble watch. Matt wrote up a great post that highlighted all the creations. We were so ahead of our time!
  • The Matt Ward Maneuver // This is Cooper’s favorite. Here’s an article describing it; when we did it, we took an object and created an axis based on two qualities (in this photo, it’s cheap <> expensive and random <> predictable). Then, you iterate on the item (again, in the photo, headphones) in each direction. We had some people on whiteboards and some people with post-its, in teams of two, and it was super fun.
  • Murder Mystery // Using Cards Against Humanity cards, and Zack’s mystery board, we each assembled stories with the cards we were dealt to create very very weird narratives.
  • Post-it Flipbook // We just made flipbooks from post-it pads. We used a lot of post-it pads.
  • Movie Puns // Take a movie title and change one letter and draw a scene from the new movie. Everyone had to guess both the original movie and pun name. Here’s a Tarantino-esque scene from Reservoir Logs, a quick look at Raveheart, and Sixtee Candles.
  • A day in the life // Everyone got a name (of someone on the team) and four locations, and we had to construct a comic strip of that person’s day going through those four spots. Here is Sean showing off, and a full strip (VC’ed in from our SF office).
  • Emoji song // Choose a song, write out the lyrics in emoji (we did this in teams of two), and then put it on screen for people to guess. These were legitimately very hard.
I can’t for the life of me figure out what song this was.
  • Soundscapes // We put together some videos of flows through the app and divided up the team into groups of 3. We then created sound effects for those flows… it was kinda incredible. Here’s one group’s really weird approach (full disclosure: it was my group).
  • Guess the Foursquare taste profile // Each person chooses a ‘celebrity’/public figure, creates a taste profile using Foursquare tastes for that person (basically, their likes), and then we shared and everyone tries to guess who that person is. For example, this one is Guy Fieri.
Flavortown!
  • PX Team member trading cards // Everyone picks someone’s name out of a hat, then you make a trading card for that person, filling in the back with stats. Check out Karina, Matt, and Sam (it’s a nice set).
  • Make your own Foursquare taste ads // Shortly after we rolled out a public set of taste-based ads for Foursquare, we re-did them with members of the team. We cut out people’s faces, and had blank taste bubbles, and filled them in. Here are a few ones.
  • Extreme UXs for Foursquare // What would a future Foursquare look like if it wasn’t on your phone. Some people made wearables, like this crazy one that monitors all sorts of things.
  • Iterate on an object // Pass around the paper and each person writes one thing in a corner and passes it on, and the fifth person keeps it. They then are given an object and must iterate on that object to form a continuum that expresses each one (similar to the Matt Ward maneuver, above). Here’s a key, and here’s a ping-pong paddle.
  • Organize your record collection // Everyone was given a zip file with 100 album covers. Each person, on their computer, then grouped them by whatever scheme they wanted (and then we went around the team and shared our groupings). The below example includes groups for ‘lots of words,’ ‘no words,’ ‘hands on crotch,’ and ‘super emo profile shots.’
  • Telestration // Everyone gets a pad of paper with the same number of pages (the number of people in the group, usually). The first person writes a phrase on the first page and passes it to the person next to them. They fold that over and draw a picture based on that phrase and pass it on. The next person folds it over and writes what phrase they think was being drawn… and you continue til it gets back around to the original writer. We then go around and share them all. I have no idea what the initial phrase that prompted this was.
  • Saudade // Each person had to propose a thing that helps someone overcome saudade — by creating a presence, or a connection to that which is absent. Proposals included a simple tattoo of the lat/long coordinates of all the places they had once called home, and a super-creepy shawl made from the skins of of their beloved deceased cats. We did this on Valentine’s day; happy Valentine’s day, team! Here’s the brief.
  • Drake calligraphy // Basically, we took Drake lyrics and made creative hand-drawn versions of them that reflected their meaning. Hilarious. I have no good photos for some reason.
  • Redesign a page on a post-it // We took one of our webpages (our venue page) and each person redesigned it with the constraint being you were drawing it on a post-it. Here are a couple good ones.
  • Design a new sticker for Swarm // Create a new sticker for Swarm, with a backstory. Here’s Howie the VC conference room, and this is a plant one in progress.
  • Pimp my ride // In the spirit of the real Xzibit, pimp your ride! Design a car that is perfect for you. Here’s a mini-golf car for a tall guy (he’ll point out he’s lanky but macho), and a crazy Mario car, and a really fancy Range Rover.
  • A team board game // Everyone gets one piece of a board game (with the path drawn out), and design the background and the move consequences for that piece. Think chutes and ladders, but stranger.
  • Your morning in 2065 // Draw out your morning routine 50 years from now. Inspired by this wonderful Paul Ford piece (he’s basically my hero), we explored what a morning in the future will be like? Do you drink coffee? Do you read the news? Do you shower? It got pretty dark.
  • Plus we’ve done a bunch of gallery visits, museum/library/medieval times trips, exploring cool street art, and random NYC things.

(If you appreciate this, give a hug to the Foursquare PX team member of your choice, and to the wonderful Ian, who started this meeting back when he was at Foursquare. Also, Leonardo, who finally nagged me enough that I put this together.)