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5 Brainstorming Exercises To Shake Up Your Product Development

Anyone who’s ever been on a UX or product development team knows about the high likelihood of getting stuck, or going too far with an idea that isn’t really something you’re excited about–just because you feel like you’ve got to get something out there.

Imagine Rabit's house is a product you don’t want to be developing.

But the outcomes don’t have to be something mediocre, especially if you’re in early stages of your product development.  If you haven’t invested a ton of resources yet, that can be the perfect time to pivot your value proposition and need statements, or make adjustments to your overall business development plans.  But it can be kind of tough to step away from your product and look at it holistically once you’ve been working on it for a while.  It might feel like your brain child, something you have trouble letting go of.  

But UX (and particularly UXO) processes are all about making that brain child better match your actual business needs and goals!  So here’s a list of potential brainstorming exercises for those of you out there who want to give your product development a revamp.  These are largely for those of you who already have some product concepts (or even prototypes) in mind, but they can definitely be adapted to earlier stages of the process.

charlie brown saying he changes his mind
‍‍That’s the right attitude for good UX optimization.

1. Make up a story

Get your whole team, or a fair number of them in on this one. Try telling a story about the user of your product. 

Go around in a circle and have each team member contribute a section of the story at a time, and write it up as you do so.  Don’t just go through their use of and interaction with the product.  Tell a story about that person’s day, and some background on the kind of life they live, the challenges and opportunities they face.  

This is similar to developing user personas but it’s more geared towards helping yourself understand the strengths and holes in your product narrative.  Don’t be afraid to get a little silly–it might bring out the brainstorming energy you need.  If you’re not able to develop a convincing story about the user, or you identify ways the product could better match his/her needs, it’s time to take a closer look and make some changes!

2. I like / I wish

This is often a meeting close-out, not a brainstorming exercise, but for teams who are limited in design capacities, it can be a simple way to get creative work done.  The premise is simple.  You break your product idea or concept into a number of components–and put them up on a board together.  Once you see them all out there, you each take turns listing things that you ‘like’ or you ‘wish’ (want to change) about the product.  You can make this as in-depth, precise, or realistic as you like.  

The goal is to be really honest with yourself and your teammates about what is working–and what isn’t.  You want to get people excited about the product they’re building with you!  Here’s one way to accomplish that.

3. Yes/and

This is a pretty classic improv exercise, and it can also be a neat way to brainstorm out-of-the-box product strategies.  It’s an exercise you’ll want to adapt to the particular needs and direction of your team, since you can apply it to anything. 

You’ll want to select a particular segment of your product to hone in on, or maybe just the whole thing.  If you’re at a stage where you need to add or enhance your product or business concepts,  this game is a great tool.  

Essentially, each time someone makes a suggestion for something to add to the product/concept, the next person who jumps in starts with ‘Yes, and’ (said with great gusto) and then adds something to what the previous person said. The goal here is to build on one another’s ideas, and not tear them down.  

It’s a way to instill a spirit of collaboration, open experimentation, and willingness to try (and even fail) in a team when that spirit might be lacking.

Two of these things are not like the other.

4. Play charades

Yes, you can use charades to brainstorm!  Think about it this way–what happens when you’re in the middle of a fast game of charades?  You come up with a whole bunch of ludicrous phrases and ideas, and a few that are pretty interesting.  Not all the interesting ones are the ‘right’ one.  So have different teammates get up and try to act out ideas or suggestions they have for the product.  As you’re guessing, if any ideas come up that are exciting or thought-provoking, flag them and write them down.  Then keep playing.  Try using this exercise in the middle of a dragging work day or session—it might be the mood and creativity booster you need.

One of the greatest comediennes and charades players of all time.

5. Start Over

This isn’t a brainstorming exercise as much as it is a strategy.  We don’t mean you should literally start from scratch and trash everything you have–just pretend that’s what you’re doing for the sake of the exercise.  If you need to, you can symbolically rip up some paper, like Spongebob.

spongebob tearing a ux report

Set all those shreds (symbolic and otherwise) aside.  And then start over for a contained amount of time–no more than a few hours. Have you ever failed to hit save on a project and had to actually rebuild it from memory?  Often the second product is better than the first, and for good reason: during that short period you were working with the original, you were becoming more expert at that particular type of work.  And your second (and then third, and fourth, etc) attempts will often be better.

charmander evolving
Pokemon are also better the second time around.

None of these brainstorming exercises can replace or build foundationally good UX or business on their own.  

They’re just intended to help you shake things up.  That’s the purpose of UX consultants, like those at GobySavvy, as well: to help you step outside of your own perspective for a while so you can approach the questions with fresh eyes and curiosity.

About the author:

Janani B.

Janani has a Master's in Design Thinking and writes frequently about UX, design, psychology, and other topics.