How do you design a ritual?

Kursat Ozenc
Apr 24, 2016 · 12 min read

Method 1. Make a list of all rituals in your life to discover what you care and value most

One team mapped their rituals on a individual/collective, rational/absurd matrix

Method 2. Ritual Improv: Improvise with constraints and discover what might stick

One of the teams enacting their welcoming ritual

Method 3. Map your routines and look for sweet spots

Mapping the routine is the first step to identify sweet spots — small moments for ritual
Another commuting routine map with an emotional graph

Method 4: Use Ritual Mechanics

We then introduced them to our ritual design framework, of ritual elements and mechanics, to guide the participants through creating a new food, commute, grooming, or productivity ritual for themselves (or a partner).

  1. ritualizing existing experiences, adding greater meaning and depth to them; and
  2. designing of ritual artifacts in support of rituals. (We go into this framework in greater depth in our first post).

Method 5. Perform your ritual with video prototyping

The final piece of the workshop was capturing the ritual with video prototyping. The method helps the ritual designer to think about the experience along its full arc, as well as how its spark can be shown, and how a spectator would see it.

The Rituals Designed

So what did the participants actually create during the workshop? Here are a couple of selected rituals from each of the theme. Note that, these videos were created rapid fire style during class time.

Courtesy of Marina Radulaski
Courtesy of Josh Leper
Courtesy of Josh Lappen
Courtesy of Mike Yakima
Courtesy of Margaret Hagan
Courtesy of Nittin Goyal


While preparing for the workshops, we had a hunch about who our audience would be, but we weren’t fully aware of the type of people who have an appetite for ritual design. Having worked with our participants in a short design sprint like this, we identified two distinct group of ritual design people: first, designers who have a deep yearning for more sensemaking and curious, almost spiritual moments, and second, life hackers coming from different disciplines who want to practically improve quality of their daily lives.

1. Dig deeper to unveil values

To set the stage for ritual design, there are two things to be thinking of — the narrative arc of the ritual that you can script and choreograph, and the magic force of the ritual that can be a prop, an interaction, a word, movement, etc. That’s what we’re seeing as the core pattern of the ritual — the narrative arc and the magic force.

2. Balance intentionality & improvisation with a bias toward experimentation

Rituals are formed in two distinct ways — the intentional, and the in-the-moment. Some rituals are formed naturally as its participants enact, interpret and shape a happening into a more formal ritual over time. The sensemaking and ritual-defining happen in the moment, or sometimes after the ritual is over. Rituals can grow out of rewiring repetitive patterns or improvised actions into a more holistic experience, taking the in-the-moment activities and imbuing them with greater meaning.

3. Work with a partner to design a ritual for you

In the first version of our workshop, we asked the participants to design the ritual for themselves. In the second one, we had them in pairs, designing for each other. We observed that participants thought further out of the box when they were designing for someone else.

4. Anchor ritual improv to a specific context or mission

In our first round of our workshop, we ran ritual improv as a freeform exercise, without many props or constraints. This proved tough. It was hard both for us, the leaders, and the participants to grasp the fluid, loose nature of each of the small improv sprints and make sense of them.

5. Aim for small moment rituals

Reflecting on the rituals that were created at the end of the two workshops, we discovered that there are almost as many personal rituals as social rituals.


Learning shared by the Stanford community

Kursat Ozenc

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product designer+innovation facilitator


Learning shared by the Stanford community