In a creative rut? Try MIT’s Mad Libs for designers

It’s easy to get into a slump at work. But a tool from MIT Media Lab offers a simple way to spark inspiration through random–and often nonsensical–design prompts. The game offers up problems that you’d never see in the real world as a bit of mind-opening creative exercise. Think of it as Mad Libs for designers.

Called design(human)design, the game has physical and digital manifestations as a deck of cards and a website, each providing a different interface for the same idea. According to the game’s structure, there are five categories that make up the basic components of a design: the artifact, the inspiration, the experience, the attributes, and the medium. In the card version, each of the these categories has its own deck of cards, and you pick five randomly to give you a new design prompt. On the website, you just hit refresh and the interface will present you with five usually unrelated concepts that together make up something like a brief.

For instance: Design a soap bar inspired by mitts that is uniform through insulating using ceramic. Or: Design an object inspired by squares that is trusting through patterns using Excel. Even more fun: Design a glove inspired by sponges that is wearable through wrapping using paper.

The tool, created by the product designer Philippa Mothersill, who works as a research assistant at MIT Media Lab’s Object-Based Media group, was itself inspired by the design process at the Cambridge, Massachusetts, branch of Ideo, according to the project’s website. (Mothersill was also inspired by Dadaist chance art.) Players can even add their own prompts. Since the website is powered by a Google spreadsheet, Mothersill invites designers to add their own additions and use the game in their practice.

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