Idea cards


image of three index cards with labels of painful, complex, compelling

Idea cards help design teams to brainstorm solutions to design problems. They are good for helping teams think about a problem in a different way to previously.

Teams are provided with a deck of cards that contain trigger words. They draw between 3 & 5 cards and must use the words on those cards as the focus of their idea.

There is no set format for the words on the cards. They will usually contain a combination of emotions, nouns and unusual words, and may also include domain-specific words. If using different sets of words they can be all included in one card deck or kept separately (if separate, teams draw from each deck).


Here’s a starter list of words:

  • Audience
  • Integrity
  • Travel
  • Difficult
  • Risk
  • Images
  • Personality
  • Impersonal
  • Visibility
  • Simplicity
  • Identity
  • Rigid
  • Constraints
  • Colour
  • Pain
  • Complex
  • Repetition
  • Listen
  • Error
  • Compelling
  • Attitude
  • Contrast
  • Quiet
  • Familiar

How to


Hand write or print each trigger word onto an index card.


Explain the design problem to participants. Provide them with the index cards and ask them to draw the number of cards you have selected.

Explain to participants that they are to come up with a creative solution to the problem, using the words on the cards as focus. Explain that they will have to show how the words contributed to their solution.

There are no hard and fast rules about what to do with the cards. You may like to:

  • Offer the opportunity to swap one card for a new one
  • Allow them to exclude one or more cards from their solution.
  • Make up one word that is given to a different team.

Some teams get very caught up in what the ‘right’ solution is for their card, or about how they are meant to use the cards. If this happens, remind them that the idea is to come up with ideas using the words as a trigger, not to solve the problem in detail.

If teams are getting bogged down in detail or stuck for ideas, ask them to come up with three very high level ideas instead of one detailed idea. The ‘pressure’ of having to come up with alternate ideas will help them generate ideas instead of getting stuck.


Little to no analysis is needed for this game. Its purpose is to help teams look at a problem in a different way and break out of existing patterns, not to create a real design solution.

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