Brainstorming can be a daunting task, as individuals will often fixate on a single idea early in the design process. While ideas can look diverse at face value, they often stem from a single core concept. This focus prevents a broad exploration of the possible design space and limits creativity. The problem often isn’t generating new ideas, but getting rid of the old ones. An exercise I have used to help students get through this process, and encourage them to think laterally is Brainstorm Poker.

Playing Brainstorm Poker in a group is a simple way of encouraging lateral, divergent thinking and getting instant feedback on ideas at the same time. N.b. I have published this technique in other venues with the alternate name “PIP Poker”.

Creating a Deck

To create a suitable deck for Brainstorm Poker, collect playing card sized pieces of paper of three different colours. The actual number of cards you use is at your discretion. For the purpose of explanation, we will use blue cards, green cards and yellow cards, but use whatever colour you have available.

For each coloured card, you will now need to write a keyword. The keyword you write is determined by the colour of the card, which denotes one of three categories. The key-word categories are ProblemImplementation, and Participation which are explained in greater detail in the subsections below.


The ‘Problem’ keywords represent general, or specific challenges in the task we are brainstorming towards. A general problem is something that is often a problem beyond the context of our current brainstorming task. A specific problem is something unique to the specific domain we are brainstorming around. General problem keywords can often be re-used in multiple exercises, and I tend to keep some as potential “wildcards” when I’m making specific decks. For example, if we were brainstorming around a commuting challenge, we could have “saving time” as a specific problem, and “environmental impact” as a general.


The Implementation cards contain keywords relating to how the problem could be tackled. The important point about implementation cards is that they should not contain a whole solution, but a building block. For example, if we were brainstorming around a marketing challenge, “social media” could be an implementation keyword.


The Participation cards have keywords relating to how stakeholders will affect, or be affected by what has been implemented. This can range from a fully interactive application to something that has minimal user interaction. For example, on a software application, we may use keywords such as drag and drop’, or swipe with finger’. If we were looking brainstorming around a retail challenge we could have participation keywords of ‘the checkout’ for example.

Playing Brainstorm Poker

  1. Shuffle all the coloured cards into a single pile.
  2. Deal each player 5 cards, and give them time to evaluate their hand.
  3. Each player should loosely combine the keywords they have in their hand to quickly come up with a fledgeling idea.
  4. Each player, in turn, selects two cards from their hand to discard. They should pick the two with keywords that they cant use in their idea. Each player must discard two cards, even if they are happy with their current hand.
  5. Once each player has discarded two cards, the dealer provides them with 2 new ones from the shuffled deck. Each player should now have 5 cards in their hand again. A player can request cards of a specific colour, but not a specific card.
  6. All players are now given one minute to evaluate their cards and generate an idea. If one, or more of their keywords does not fit within their idea then they can choose to not include it in their hand, but they do not get another card in return.
  7. In turn, each player presents their hand and lays their cards up-turned on the table in front of them. They then have a maximum of 30 seconds to pitch their idea to the other players and explain how the keyword on each card factors into their idea.
  8. After each player has pitched their idea all the other players are asked to give a small amount of feedback. At the end of their feedback they should give the idea a score, between 0 and 10 representing how good/suitable they think the idea is to the task being brainstormed.
  9. The dealer then collates all these scores and provides the player with their average evaluation score. It can be useful to keep a calculator available for this part of the game.
  10. At the end of each round, each player should quickly sketch out, or write down their idea.
  11. The game can be played for as many rounds as necessary, with the deck shuffled at each round. The player that won the most rounds in total wins the game.

There is a long history of using card games for ideation [1,2,3,4]. Card games are useful because they can be structured in such a way as to allow for a stochastic element within a structured ruleset. Furthermore, the vast majority of people are familiar with at least one card game, flattening the learning curve. They are generally considered to be a subcategory of ‘Design Games’ which have been shown to foster collaboration [5]. The game works by forcing the participants to combine seemingly random concepts into a final proposition. Also, by getting the player to sacrifice two cards you force them to make a strategic decision. Do they keep the cards with the highest value (which may not form a good idea) or, do they keep cards that form a clearer proposition (and possibly lose the cards that may have a higher value) in the hope of getting a better evaluation? Either way, the player is put in a position where they need to structure disparate concepts into a single idea relating to their project, forcing them to evaluate the task from multiple viewpoints. The evaluation phase of the game provides a quick sanity check, and the process of working in a group allows these fledgeling ideas to be shared, inspiring each member. I first discussed this exercise in our book “Five Design-Sheets: Creative Design and Sketching for Computing and Visualisation”[6].

  1. Luger, E., Urquhart, L., Rodden, T., & Golembewski, M. (2015, April). Playing the legal card: Using ideation cards to raise data protection issues within the design process. In Proceedings of the 33rd Annual ACM conference on human factors in computing systems
  2. Wetzel, R., Rodden, T., & Benford, S. (2017). Developing ideation cards for mixed reality game design. Transactions of the Digital Games Research Association, 3(2).
  3. Golembewski, M., & Selby, M. (2010, August). Ideation decks: a card-based design ideation tool. In Proceedings of the 8th ACM Conference on Designing Interactive Systems (pp. 89-92).
  4. Halskov, K., & Dalsgård, P. (2006, June). Inspiration card workshops. In Proceedings of the 6th conference on Designing Interactive Systems (pp. 2-11).
  5. Brandt, E., & Messeter, J. (2004, July). Facilitating collaboration through design games. In Proceedings of the eighth conference on Participatory design: Artful integration: interweaving media, materials and practices-Volume 1 (pp. 121-131).
  6. Roberts, J. C., Headleand, C. J., & Ritsos, P. D. (2017). Five Design-Sheets: Creative Design and Sketching for Computing and Visualisation. Springer.

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