Key takeouts rom UX Week 2011 – San Francisco

A few months ago I bought a book. Coincidentally, the author of that book was presenting a workshop at Adaptive Path’s UX Week in San Francisco. The book was Gamestorming by Sunni Brown. Now I did flick through the book and got some tips and tools. It was good, the stuff was useful but I admit I put it back on the shelf.

The workshop did something amazing. It brought the words on those pages to life — which is quite poetic considering the topic!

Our creative selves

Some stuff you’ve probably heard before:

  • Our left brain is analytical and our right brain is creative. New ideas engage the right brain however most of our activities at work show the left side so much more love.
  • People are auditory, visual and kinaesthetic beings. We need to engage at least two of these dynamics to effectively learn and understand.

…and we run meetings and ‘workshops’ where we talk at each other and write stuff down and wonder why nothing much came out of it.

The F word (…facilitation)

One of our icebreaker activities was to draw our experience with, or how we feel about facilitating. Here’s my drawing –>

In theory, I love it. In practice, it makes me nervous and anxious. Why? Because I genuinely want to do a good job but can’t get over the fear of people thinking “well, that was a waste of time” or “she was terrible!” Sunni admitted that even she, a professional who lives and breathes this stuff, also feels this way. Now I think this is both good and bad. Good because it’s normal but bad to know that it doesn’t go away. But maybe it gets less intense. Or maybe she was just trying to make us feel better! Either way, it was reassuring to hear her say it.

Visual thinking

Drawing is about communication – not art

Anyone can learn to do it. Even artists! Artists and designers sometimes struggle by making things too complicated or over thinking things. It just about making simple shapes and joining them together is a meaningful way. Easy.

The Visual Alphabet - copyright Sunni Brown

The Visual Alphabet - copyright Sunni Brown

The extended mind principle

The more information you can store in material objects or the environment, the more the mind can engage with the situation at hand. Basically pens, paper and walls are important.


Some people love them, some people hate them. Even most people who roll their eyes at the thought inevitably get drawn into participating. They might even enjoy themselves!

No-one can dispute that game playing allows us to thing outside the box — to solve problems creatively. Games allow us to engage multiple senses and take unstructured approaches and views that we ordinarily would find difficult.

The long and the short of it – Games can = meetings can = games.

Respect the shape of a meeting, game or workshop

Effective sessions must have three phases: opening, exploring and closing. It seems so simple right, but how many meetings have you attended where this simply isn’t the case? I know I’ve been part of, and been guilty of running many of them!  It’s too easy to leave a vital phase out. Even though it’s the biggest, the middle bit is probably the easiest. If you don’t set it up properly, there’s a good chance the group won’t be focused or clear on the intent. If you don’t pull it together, ideas remain scattered and have little chance of turning into actions.

The Shape of a Game - copyright Sunni Brown

Games are tools. YOU have to make them work.

There might be recipe books of games and activities but the ‘joy of cooking’ is most important. Effective meetings and workshops take planning. Don’t be fooled into thinking you can select an activity and have it magically come together on the day. Selecting and designing activities take time and focus.

Doodling nerds having fun visually thinking and sharing - image copyright Sunni Brown

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