3 Brain Games that Spark Creative Ideas

By: Lee Ard

Junior Graphic Designer

How do you generate new and unexpected ideas?

“Brainstorming.” Although you may be thinking of that scene from ‘Sharkboy and Lavagirl,’ the word “brainstorming” actually refers to the kind of storming done by the military. It originated as a method of quickly and aggressively attacking a problem from many different angles. There are a ton of ways to brainstorm and if you’re creative, you probably have a few tried-and-true techniques.

Classic brainstorming methods include word-mapping, free association writing, doodling, and the collaborative whiteboard sesh. Whether you’re solving a problem for a client, working on a personal project, or just trying to have fun with your creative peeps, brainstorming games can help kick it off. Check out the techniques below for loosening up that noggin’ and getting your creative juices flowing.

Strange Connections

This is one of my personal favorite brain games. I started using this method in college and I’m fairly sure it came from Ellen Lupton’s book Graphic Design Thinking: Beyond Brainstorming.

  1. Start by making two columns of words (if there’s a friend nearby, ask for suggestions to keep the list fresh). I like to limit the lists to around six words but it’s entirely up to you.
  2. Once you have two columns, randomly draw lines connecting words from the opposite column. Try not to make sense out of the pairings—the weirder the better. If your self control is wavering, roll a pair of dice to match up the words.
  3. Take the pairs and come up with a way to combine them in a drawing or illustrated story. Use those brain muscles.

A fun variation of this is to categorize your lists. So, one column might be adjectives and the other, verbs. Or one might be sea creatures and the other, kitchen appliances. You get the idea.

Twist it, Pull it, Spin it, Bop it

This is less of a game and more of a creative exercise. It’s useful in creating visual variations of a general object. For example, if I were to tell you to draw a heart, you’d probably get stuck after two versions. Use this list of verbs to think outside the box. Feel free to add to the list!

Stretch, Twist, Melt, Shrink, Split, Flatten, Reverse, Inflate, Scatter

Exquisite Corpse

This is a collaborative drawing game. It’s typically played with three people and one sheet of paper. Each player is assigned either a head, torso, or legs/tail.

  1. Start by folding a blank piece of paper so there are two fold lines and three even sections.
  2. The player assigned the head will go first, drawing a head (human, animal, whatever) on the top third of the paper. Make sure your lines extend a little into the second section so that Player Two can see where to start drawing. Fold the paper so that your drawing is hidden from Player Two.
  3. Player Two draws the torso in the second section, starting with the lines bleeding over from section one. Again, make sure your lines extend a little into the next section so that Player Three can see where to start drawing. Fold the paper so that your drawing is hidden from Player Three.
  4. Player Three draws the legs or tail in the third section, starting with the lines bleeding over from section two.
  5. Unfold the paper to reveal your (no-doubt interesting) creature.

You can find a step by step example here.


When you get into a creative rut and hit a dead end, try out one of these creative games. Even if they don’t end up directly solving your problem, you’ll enjoy the process and surprise yourself. In season one of Abstract: The Art of Design, Paula Scher says that you can’t design if you’re not in a state of play. So relax, have some fun, and don’t be afraid to get weird.