Why Play Is Important For Design

When done right, design is solving a problem. But how do you develop a solution? It means you have already many potential solutions lined up and you only decide for one which seems to fit best at the moment. But how do you narrow down that particular one? We have a limited thinking. Often we have in our mind already an idea about the solution —we look at it, check what’s been done before and iterate quickly to find a common ground that others simply agree with our solution and best can benefit from using it right away.

Yet, doesn’t that means a lot of possible solutions — or better options — are left behind by us? There is the saying: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,” and in the same way ”you miss 100% of the creative solutions, you don’t consider”. This means you should not start finding creative solutions by narrowing down quickly the options, but staying opening to all the possibilities—to consider as many different solutions as you can. Limited thinking is a barrier to creativity. The trick is ‘play’. ‘Play’ helps to achieve clarity in the end.

‘Play’ is important in the design process, because it can open our brain to develop new ideas, it stimulates associations between ideas that are usually disconnected and didn’t even seem for us to point to each other. ‘Play’ helps you to put them together in new ways and makes you aware of complete new options. In ‘play’ you don’t think of an end product or final solution. It allows you to suspend judgment. In ‘play’ you see connections, you could not possibly have foreseen before.

Source: Behance Pablo Alfieri

The fundamental reason to use play in the design process is to explore and expand. Enjoy to improvise, explore, experiment, manipulate, reconfigure, expand, influence, change, marvel, discover, and create. You need that time to explore the unknown, the unpredictable, and to push the limits of the the challenge you try to solve.

Don’t think of it as a time-consuming process. Believe us when we say “it will be the most valuable time that you can put ever into a project”. Looking at the creative challenge from all sides, upside down and to consider the wildest options, to see it from all perspectives. Think of the smallest, most cost effective solution and of the biggest one where constraints don’t play any role and then think as well of everything in between this spectrum. Think of all stakeholders that would use or see it, put your self in the shoes of different target audiences. And important — do not dismiss anything right away, stay open-minded and think about every possibility from a fresh point of view. When you play, you try things that are new. See where this leads you.

The tricky part is to not go straight to the computer, google or open a program and start designing or pinning it down. It is much better to start on a whiteboard or empty sketchbook page and lay down a lot of different ways. With a lot we mean a lot. Think out loud and fill in the blank space. Do not become too focussed on one solution right away. Once you cling to one right from the beginning, you forget looking right and left and it becomes more difficult to let go of it when you even found a better solution while working on it. Then slowly start throwing away what doesn’t work and build on what does. In the end keep the intention and the goal in mind that you have or problem you want to solve. A clear intent gives you clear goals and leads to a solution that supports them. If you don’t have an essential understanding of the creative problem, you won’t recognize the solution when you come across it.

If you keep thinking about things in the same way, you will keep having the same ideas and find the same solutions again and again. ‘Play’ helps to stimulate yourself to think differently and that in as many ways possible.

To play is not as difficult as you think:

  • Keep stimulating your own creative thinking.
  • Don’t loose your natural curiosity. Ask questions.
  • Stay flexible to the answers. Don’t jump quickly to a solution and be narrow-minded or attached to the first best thing that comes to your mind.
  • Allow criticism. Take it in as it can make your work better.
  • Use empathy.

The more you ‘play’, the easier it becomes and the greater our outcomes.

Encouraging Different Kinds of Play

#TeamCreate book recommendation to play: The Art of Looking Sideways by Alan Fetcher

There are countless ways of playing, but play can in the simplest way be defined as tossing aside the “regular rules” for a period of time in order to try new possibilities.

For us at The Create Labs it can be as simple as picking up books or magazines that having nothing to do with what we’re working on.

It’s amazing how your mind starts to wander, think around corners when you get a stimulation away from the normal path in which you think.

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” Plato
Source: Behance Michał Kulesza

Another option is using the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® method. It implements Lego bricks and characters in the design thinking process to help generating innovative ideas and solutions. Normally the process is conducted by a trained facilitator which you can find online.

For some a walk to a museum or really unusual sight/place or a conversation with people that are from a different field help to play. But no matter how you approach play and include it in your work to find and create solutions always stay open for the endless possibilities.

We’re talking here about a healthy mix of unstructured and constructive play. One that lets you be able to wonder, unlock learnings and create an agreement on a solution. Above all there is learning, the kind of learning that allows you to navigate unknown areas, make these unusual connections, and find a solution for a new goal in an unforeseen way.

Innovation always demands play. Breakthroughs happen when you consider creating in the unknown. When you challenge your creative capability and push its limits.

There’s one playful way that you can always use to practice creative intelligence and keep your mind open for these gems of possible solutions: Approach obstacles at work or in your life not as problems to be solved, but as challenges to be met.

How do you integrate ‘play’ in your work? How does it help you to find solutions? Share your thoughts in the comments! And let us know if we can help you finding solutions for your business :)