Five Warm-Ups to Ignite Your Design Thinking Workshop

By Kathlyne Taylor, Strategist

Design thinking workshops inspire an atmosphere of teamwork, collaboration, and innovation. They are designed to reframe the way collective teams approach product innovation through a focused lens on the end-user. These workshops involve activities that ensure everyone’s voice is heard, challenge participants to think outside the box, and are, quite frankly, fun team-building processes. Even with the most anticipated workshops, everyone hits the feeling of the afternoon crash and maintaining energy levels when 3 o’clock rolls around can be challenging at best. Below are five warm-ups to help your team beat the afternoon slump and get them primed for various workshop activities:

1. Grandma, Tiger, Ninja

This warm-up is by and large, a huge hit in all types of workshops. It’s similar to rock, paper, scissors, except you act out each role with your entire body. For example, a Grandma would be hunched over, a tiger would leap up and go “rawr”, and a ninja would strike a ready-to-attack pose. Remember:

  • Ninja beats Tiger (since it’s a Ninja)
  • Tiger eats Grandma
  • Grandma beats Ninja (since she’s the Ninja’s Mom)

Starting in pairs, the winner moves on and the loser becomes the winner’s biggest fan. By the end, the last two people will play for the championship title, each with a massive cheering section.

Purpose: Meeting new people, building camaraderie, getting people out of their comfort zone


2. Zombie Cats

A Smashing original, created by our own UX and Creative leaders, starts with breaking the room up into equal sized groups. For round one, challenge the groups to find two things they all have in common with one another. For round two, let the room know that the two things their group has in common is now their team name (i.e. Zombie Cats – one group found out that everyone liked zombie movies and cats). Give the groups five minutes to figure out how they will act out their team name. When time is up, have each group act out their team name to the entire room and have others guess the team’s name.

Purpose: Introductions, getting people to open up to each other, finding common ground


3. Yes, BUT vs. Yes, AND

Have the room pair up and assign the group a task (e.g., to plan a party). For round one, have everyone start each sentence of their conversation with “Yes, BUT”. After the first round, ask your participants how the conversation went? How was the party they planned? For round two have participants start their conversation with “Yes, AND”. After the second round, ask the group how the round went and compare the two conversations. The differences between the two will be striking!

Purpose: Collaboration, showing the difference between an open and closed mindset


4. 1000 Uses

Divide participants out into equal sized groups, pick a random object (i.e. a paperclip), and challenge each group to come up with 1,000 uses for the object. No repeats! In each group, each participant will take turns in a circle coming up with new ideas. Make sure that each group has a volunteer note taker to capture how many ideas their group comes up with. Time the challenge for 4 minutes. When time is up, have each group share how many ideas they generated. The group with the most ideas wins!

Purpose: Thinking outside the box, encouraging wild ideas


5. Draw a Vase

For the first round of this exercise have everyone take out a piece of paper and ask them to draw a vase. Once they are finished have them post what they drew on the board. For the second round have everyone design a way for people to enjoy flowers in their homes and post it on the board. Compare the two drawings and discuss how reframing the question affected the proposed solutions.

Purpose: Learning how to reframe brainstorming triggers, thinking outside the box


There you have it. You are now armed with energetic exercises to combating the midday workshop crash. These tried and true warm-ups will help create a supportive atmosphere that inspires your team to get out of their comfort zones, collaborate with one another, and dream up wild ideas.

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