Pictionary your idea!

One of the things I look forward to during the festive season is the chance to pull out my favourite board game – Pictionary. I love playing this purely to see the amazingly imaginative images people will come up with to express a word or concept.

From Egyptian hieroglyphics to executive pie charts, images and symbols have always been used to support the expression of concepts and ideas. In recent times, a group of architects (Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa and Murray Silverstein) developed a visual thinking technique called ‘pattern language’  for designing new buildings. As this method is visual and flexible it can be applied in many situations and helps people to see new and different relationships between the attributes of a problem. It uses abstract visual symbols to substitute words.

In his book ‘ThinkerToys‘, Michael Michalko gives an excellent description of how to apply pattern language to idea development:

  1. Divide your challenge into its different attributes.
  2. Describe each attribute by drawing an abstract symbol (each on a separate card) – on the back of each card write the attribute.
  3. Place all of the cards on a table with the symbols facing up.
  4. Group and regroup the symbols randomly into various relationships.
  5. Record the most idea provoking arrangements.

We so often use words for describing and thinking about challenges, that they can lose their impact. Using visuals provides fresh eyes for looking at a challenge and could inspire ideas which you may never have arrived at by using words alone.

Why not try describing the attributes of a challenge you have using symbols/images? If you’re not sure where to start, what about having a game of Pictionary to warm up?!

Here are some of my images based on a challenge about fundraising:




2 responses to “Pictionary your idea!

  1. Hi – Like your post. The thinkertoys example – this is similar as a method (although much more visual) to an idea called Triz. – A method of forced innovation by a russian rocket scientist called (from memory) Genrich Alstuller. He talked about innovation patterns, and pointed out since there is no completely original idea, it is a recombinant pattern. We have used this in developing innovation methodologies for our clients. It’s very useful, as it is a deliberate creative approach that people who aren’t used to thinking that way can work with easily…

    • Hi,
      Thanks for your comment! I agree with your point about the accessibility of the approach – many people are put off by creative methods or don’t think of themselves as ‘creative’, so it’s really important to find accessible ways to encourage creative thinking.

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