Seven creative exercises to help you create even when you’re remote

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So you’re working from home, spending too much time on Zoom calls, feeling a bit frustrated and that normal creative business – design workshops, ideation sessions, design sprints – has had to pause. Time to think again. As someone who leads a remote-first agency that specialises in service design and UX as well as web application development, I know first hand that creativity and collaboration don’t just happen in person.

And I can unequivocally state that running design sprints and collaborating with clients is entirely possible, even when you’re 100% remote. It’s just different. A strong design process helps alongside a ‘design thinking’ mentality. So do the right tools and professional experience. But we all need a little fun, too, to create those creative sparks, so here are six exercises that we use with our clients to inspire our design process. See our seven creative exercises that we have been using before and during the pandemic to successfully deliver products and services to clients.

Goal visualisation

A good one to start with, usually at our kick-off workshop, is goal visualisation. In this, each participant takes a moment to think about the difference the project could make.

You can do this in lots of ways – sketching, keywords, bulleted lists or an inspiring piece of writing (I haven’t yet seen it done in interpretative dance, but that day may come). It shows each person’s perspective on what the project should achieve and helps get people excited about the project.

Stinky Fish

Great name, great exercise, especially for your kick-off workshop. In the Stinky Fish exercise, participants share any risks about going ahead with a project. (The idea is that if they’re not aired now, they might fester and become, you guessed it, stinky!)

Stinky Fish is a great way to confront any obstacles or concerns, bring them out into the open and address them. (It’s also an opportunity to check if there is indeed a good reason not to proceed.)

Crazy Eights

Crazy Eights is a fun, fast exercise that gets participants to sketch eight ideas in eight minutes. All they need is a piece of paper (that you can later hold up to your webcam) and a pen (if you’re doing this remotely, something bold, like a Sharpie, shows up well on-screen). Divide your sheet of paper into eight boxes, start the timer – and go!

Because of the time constraint, Crazy Eights is an excellent way to get people to capture their ideas without hesitation. There isn’t time for self-editing or shyness – it encourages everyone in the room to get stuck in right away!

Sketching exercises

Lots of people think they can’t draw and might find sketching intimidating. But everyone can, certainly well enough for UX design workshops. Sketching exercises are fun and by sharing their sketches onscreen with tools like Miro, reluctant participants can gain confidence in bringing their ideas to life whilst creating documentation that will help drive the project forward.

Ideas pitching

Ideas pitching gives each participant a chance to pitch their concepts and designs to the rest of the group. Participants can then vote on the best elements (using show of hands voting if you’re on Zoom), or converge solutions together or in pairs in Zoom breakout rooms.

Replay

And the last one is really handy too – a Replay exercise runs through the key goals from your kick-off workshop, or refreshes your team on the personas and scenarios that have been developed. It’s a fun and quick way to bring everyone up to speed, or to ensure they’re back on the same page – we often use it at the start of a workshop.

Remote working tools

Now that you have the seven excercises its time to ‘tool-up’! You can collaborate effectively, even if you’re working remotely, with a pen and a few sheets of paper. But there are more sophisticated tools, too. At Cyber-Duck, we use whiteboard apps like Miro and Mural to collate digital post-it notes, perform card sorting and more. Tools like Sketch Cloud and Invision help us walk clients through design prototypes and get feedback, while Airtable makes sharing research data easy. (Get a full rundown of all our favourite tools in our remote-first design sprints white paper – it’s free.)

Conclusion

We’ve successfully storyboarded, mapped personas, and developed service design blueprints, all remotely, all in collaboration with clients. That’s why I can reassure you, from a company that’s worked remote-first for some years now, that remote creative collaboration isn’t just possible – it can be really effective. You just need to have proven process, the right tools – and a good idea of what you’re doing.

Danny Bluestone, co-founder, Cyber-Duck

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