Sparks – Playful Innovation


Philips Design has created a boardgame called Spark to help generate insights. It looks like it is a pretty simple premise – there are a set of characters (basic personas) and a set of situations. As you roll the dice and the characters land on the situations, you have to brainstorm the implications.

According to Slava Kozlov, Senior Consultant in Strategic Futures Design at Philips Design:

“You can experiment without taking risks. Suspend your values and beliefs and adopt different roles which allow you to consider issues from a different angle. Learn how to deal with new situations effectively. Think more unconventionally while remaining relevant. And, in the process, enjoy yourself more!”

In many respects it’s not all that innovative. Personas and scenarios are often used in brainstorming sessions. But one of the aims of this approach seems to be to take the activity away from the slightly forced nature of some brainstorming sessions. In theory (as much research shows) the more participants’ minds relax into a playful state, the more laterally creative they should start to think.

There is a quite a bit of talk in the PDF article about “serious games” and a mention of The Serious Games Institute. I’m not a fan of this kind of terminology, the same as the idea of serious play. I understand why people use this, but it is an immediately apologetic framing of play. Play is play and it is important – it doesn’t need the prefix of being serious to make it so. It doesn’t do much to advance the value of play.

As for the game, I can imagine in a corporate culture that this could be a useful tool allowing people to enter into a suspended-judgement, creative idea generation space because is “only a game”. Of course the flipside could also be the case – that it or its outcomes are not taken seriously because it’s a game. It is good to see these ideas becoming more accepted and mainstream though.

There’s a video of Birgitta ten Napel talking about the game on the Philips site too.

4 Replies

  • On a tangent, I wonder if they could use it in nursing homes to help prevent alzheimers? Apparently crosswords, sudoku etc after a while do nothing to help keep the brain cells replicating because after a while their ‘new challenge’ factor plateaus. Sounds like this represents an evolving challenge.

    If it took off, nursing homes could become more like think tanks with a bed, breakfast and bedpan service. If it became government-sponsored, they could brainstorm on all sorts of pressing public service problems.

  • Well yeah, I did mean it seriously but got carried away.

    When I used to visit my grandfather at a nursing home it was the most drab, uninspiring environment – makes you wonder whether there’s anything the design of the place could actually do to help stave off dementia and alzheimers.

  • That’s not like you to get carried away… ;-)

    Yes, I have had the same experience with my Grandmother. It was always hard to see this once lively and jolly woman sink into her own inner parallel universe of dementia in the most drab environment. I’m sure there is a lot that designers and service designers could do. The question is, as always, who pays for it. It’s something I wouldn’t mind looking into though – so thanks for the inspiration.

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