What is a design game?

A design game is a fun activity played by a small team and used to provide input to a design problem.

Design games can involve users of a product, a project team, stakeholders, or even management.

The most important aspect of design games is that they are fun! They involve play to promote creativity and idea generation.

Design games are also hands-on. They are not about talking about an idea, but about creating it. As such, our insights and learning happen from the playing of the game, not talking about the issue.

They provide something useful. I’m not talking about silly filling-in-time activities that you are made do at training or planning days. Design games should always provide something that you can use for a project. Design games may provide outputs like:

  • useful insights for a problem
  • prioritised lists of features
  • ideas for terminology
  • an understanding of how people think differently

Design games are planned and structured. They are not just about getting people in one place to work on a design. They have a goal and are planned so that goal is met.

Why play design games?

Simple – design games are fun. And when we have fun we think better, think more practically, and can be more creative. I know that I’d rather play a design game than sit in another endless meeting talking about potential functionality or talking about a design rather than creating it. Guess what – our users & stakeholders would like to do that as well.

Design games are a great way to get real involvement in, and commitment to, a project. When a team works together on something they create a shared space and a shared commitment. They are actively involved. When you compare that to a more common approach where one person creates something and demonstrates it to others to ‘get their feedback’ you can see the opportunity for dramatic difference in real involvement.

Design games are also very good ways to communicate. Many of the games involve sketching, writing & drawing. These provide much clearer representations of an idea than talking about it. A team playing a design game as part of their process, or a researcher watching users playing a game, will have a clearer idea of what they actually agreed on.