The simplest creative tool anyone can use to cook up unique ideas

The simplest creative tool anyone can use to cook up unique ideas
A fake ad about the most boring thing ever, bricks. Credit: Midjourney

Stuck trying to come up with ideas on a topic? There is a classic design tool that you can learn in the next minute to get you unstuck on almost anything (and get you excited in the process).

When we design games for game jams, we only have 72 hours. We finish our ideation and initial design in a single evening between 4-5 people using this tool and it's what helped us pick a design direction that put us in the top 5% for Sweep Stacks. It's a tool I lean on constantly when thinking about ways to create unique ideas.

It's called attribute listing. Here's how it works (and how I came up with the fake ad above in 5 minutes):

First, write down the central topic or theme you need to generate ideas on.

Then, write down every. single. thing. that describes that topic. At first, you're going to braindump all the obvious attributes of the topic.

After that initial brain dump is when the magic happens. You will begin to see the topic like an object you're holding up to the light, and as you turn it around in your head, you'll begin to think of more ways to describe what you see.

Exercise: The Humble Brick 🧱

Let's say you worked at a brick manufacturing company and you had to market bricks. Sounds like the most boring thing ever, right? It's just a BRICK, how creative can you really be?

So the obvious ideas that you'll list to describe a brick will be...

  • Construction
  • Masonry
  • Red
  • Heavy
  • Hard

But once you begin listing attributes, your brain will start to make new connections. Like, how does a brick taste? Feel? What are its uses?

  • Bitter
  • Textured
  • Thrown object
  • Paper weight
  • Weapon
  • Castles
  • Churches
  • Walls
  • Fireplaces
  • Protection
  • Defense

If I said "brick" would your mind immediately jump to "thrown weapon?" Well, if you've played some more, let's say, questionable videogames, then possibly. From there, your mind might jump to: zombie invasion or the apocalypse.

"We make quality bricks."

So what? So does every other competitor who makes bricks. But who makes bricks that are so well made they help you survive in a zombie apocalypse? Only your company – because you used some simple attribute listing.

Get the picture? 🙋‍♂️🧱🧟‍♂️

Attribute listing is a lateral thinking tool. It doesn't matter how boring the initial topic seems – I can almost guarantee you'll be able to come up with unique, differentiated ideas, especially with the right people in the room.

It almost feels like cheating.

Have a lovely day,

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Hi 👋 I'm Kamran. I'm a consulting developer educator who can help your DevRel team increase adoption with better docs, samples, and courseware.
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