When you work in the creative industry, it can be easy to fall prey to stagnation. Designers and creatives can end up producing the same work over and over again and not being able to break from a certain rhythm.

According to Forbes, burnout at work is on the rise. Over half of workers (52%) surveyed in 2021 said they experienced burnout at work.

Unlike many office jobs, when you work in design, you can’t just keep pushing on if you’re not feeling creatively inspired. Your fatigue will show in your work.

Designer fatigue is normal! It's important to break free every once in a while and do something that inspires you. So, let’s talk about some clever ways to get your creative juices flowing.

Design planning process with paper and markers
Image source: Firmbee.com on Unsplash

We all know the benefits of exercising to your body and mind. But what about a workout that is geared towards exercising your creativity to improve productivity?

That got our team of designers here at Linearity thinking about fun ways to try new things and share that experience with others. Then, when we stumbled upon something exciting: Design challenges!

Let’s chat about what design challenges are and how your team can use them to increase productivity.

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What is a design challenge?

Design challenges are exercises or competitions that designers can do to boost creativity, create positive habits, and learn new methods for brainstorming design projects.

Trying out creative design challenges is a terrific way to break up the monotony of repetitive design, learn a new design process, build team spirit, and most importantly, have fun!

This can be your chance to create a more inclusive culture that supports designers and asks tough questions about complicated issues to get your creative community of designers thinking. Your team will appreciate the effort!

An engaging and hands-on activity is a great excuse to try out contemporary design tools and encourage your coworkers to become a community of innovators. Innovation can be encouraged and curated with the right environment and these challenges are a wonderful way to start.

Visual design process meeting
Image source: Leon on Unsplash

A culture of generosity that encourages designers to flourish will inevitably lead to better designs and happier creative teams. Your team will also learn to work together and provide helpful feedback to other designers.

Let's look at the challenges we brainstormed for you to explore with your team. All these ideas are meant to help you get into the creative groove and find new sources of creativity.

Design challenge #1: visualize a quote

Everyone has a quote that they remember and keep coming back to. It might be something that speaks to you on a personal level or something that drives your ambition in life.

A fun exercise to kick things off in a design boot camp is to ask your team to create a graphic design that goes along with an inspiring quote of their choice. Don’t add too many design constraints. Just let the designers work with the conceptual content of the quote to build their design.

Turn ideas into reality sign
Image source: Mika Baumeister on Unsplash
Using quotes as the basis for your design can be an excellent design inspiration that inspires unique content.

Try and think of movie quotes, motivational quotes, or anything that excites or inspires you. Then, let those emotions drive your design intention.

If anyone on your team is having trouble thinking of a quote, check some quote websites like Goodreads or BrainyQuote. These websites compile popular quotes from movies, books, and famous figures and organize them into easily searchable categories.

For any non-designers participating in the challenge, pen-and-paper or marker-and-whiteboard works fine. They can also explore using graphic design software, no need to make things perfect, this is meant to be a fun experiment.

Design challenge #2: make your avatar

Ever since they came out, Memojis by Apple has been all the rage. A Memoji is essentially just a customized avatar-emoji version of yourself. Apple put this personalized spin on the already well-liked Emojis in 2018.

We absolutely love Emojis and Memojis and thought we would take this a step further by posing the challenge of designing an avatar of yourself!

Whether it's cartoon-inspired or a more realistic vector-based design, this exercise will get your creative juices flowing. It can result in some interesting insights into how your teammates view themselves, their personal projects, and their brand.

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Rather than focusing on a specific content theme, the design is all about the designer! They can also create a Memoji of another designer or even a famous character or historical figure if they’re hesitant to make one of themself.

Creation amongst people who work in the design industry can get dull at times and mixing things up with a fun challenge like this one can be a great way to get ideas flowing in a community of designers.

This can also be a fun activity to try with potential design candidates or new employees as an icebreaker. Seeing how designers design an avatar of themselves offers a unique insight into their personality and aesthetic.

Keep this challenge light and fun and see what the designers produce. You might be surprised how they see each other and themselves!

Here's an example of what these designs can look like, created in Linearity Curve (formerly Vectornator).

Character illustrations made in Linearity Curve
Little character illustrations made in Linearity Curve by @scarletcummins

Design challenge #3: design your mood board

Once the individual avatars start to come to life, you can pose this challenge to your team and pair these newly made creations with their personalized mood board!

A mood board is a visual representation of a designer’s thoughts or visions about a specific topic. Creating a mood board visually captures elements of an individual’s personality and behavior.

Ask your team to create a mood board that they feel represents them or use it as a chance to do some ideation for a future project. If they’re feeling stuck, think of a random topic and pitch it to them.

Here are some mood board inspiration ideas for those who might struggle to think of a concept:

  • Personal aesthetic
  • Travel (pick a location)
  • Minimalism
  • The color yellow

Another fun spin on this challenge can be to ask teammates to design mood boards for their peers! This will bring out interesting ideas of what people prioritize about their peers and could even make for some lively conversations.

You might be surprised what amazing projects arise from this challenge. Creating a mood board can help designers envision personal projects and future projects.

This challenge is a low-intensity way to think about design concepts and avoid feedback loops that arise from constant client work and critique. It can also help develop crucial skills in brainstorming and conceptualizing designs.

Here's a great example of what a mood board looks like.

Visual mood board with chillis
Image source: Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Design challenge #4: create a photo story

Another design challenge idea is to encourage designers to pick a few objects and items that they have on their desks or in their immediate vicinity. Then, have them think up a story that those objects might be living out AKA a photo story.

A photo story is a method of using images to tell a story. In this case, we’ll be using everyday objects and making them more interesting by telling a story about them.

Using any camera available to you (an iPhone photo will work just fine), take a maximum of five pictures for your photo story by positioning these objects however you want. This will become the photo story.

The trick in this challenge is to click your pictures as quickly as possible. Otherwise, the participants tend to get caught up in the minute details and lose the creative aim of the challenge.

Position your pictures accordingly and stick to vectors or visual depictions of the story progression. Avoid using words and sentences as you want the focus to be on the visuals and the story in the design.

For the non-designer participants, printing out the pictures and positioning them on a whiteboard works well too. Again, this can be their chance to experiment with design software, but if that is too time-consuming, the whiteboard method will be a great solution.

The fast pace of the challenge, along with the conception of a minor storyline, is a sure way to tap your creativity! Encourage everyone not to overthink it and just let their creativity flow.

Maybe even set a timer to limit your team. Five to ten minutes should be more than enough time for your team to complete this challenge.

Making a photo story doesn’t require any specific content knowledge or a grasp of content specific to an industry, which is a fun time for designers to explore concepts they might not get to explore in their daily work.

Are they interested in robots? Art? Plants? Great! Now is the time to create something unique and quirky and it helps if they focus on a subject they’re inspired by and interested in.

It is also a fantastic way to start a design process for a new project. You might even find that your creative community starts using this technique or others on this list to brainstorm their upcoming work and conceptual content!

Consider also using this exercise to practice asking puzzling questions, workshopping content, and sharing your design process with each other.

The photo story exercise can start a rigorous discussion about design and creating content that will hopefully carry over to your daily work process. Workshopping and being comfortable giving and receiving feedback is a typical practice, and this assignment is a great time to remind your team of that.

Here are some great sample questions to ask to get things started:

  • What does this design mean to you?
  • How did you pick these objects?
  • Can you tell us about your process?
  • What inspired you?
Minimalistic banana on pink background
Image source: Mike Dorner on Unsplash

Design challenge #5: old object, but new interface

Take pictures of everyday objects around the office that typically are ignored. Now, think of a hidden use or new interface for that object and draw it out on your picture!

An interface is a description of the things a certain object can do. For example, a TV remote turns your TV on and maybe even changes the channels for you. That is the interface of the remote.

But we want you to rethink the basic assumptions you might have about what objects are used for. Get creative with what you brainstorm.

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A belt that gives you periodic reminders to drink water? A swiss army knife that also plays music? Perfect!

Who knows what wacky ideas are floating about in your brain, and this exercise is a fun way of bringing them to life. Don’t think too hard, just let your mind wander and you’ll come up with something great.

Try not to harshly critique submissions in this challenge, you can (and should) ask some difficult questions and offer collaborative feedback to understand why they picked the objects they did. Critiquing ideas here could limit creativity.

Rigorous discussion can bring up some great ideas to explore, and that’s why we encourage discussion and feedback in this challenge. Gentle feedback can create a combined solution for a design problem that you wouldn’t expect, and it lets your designers know they’re free to create without boundaries in these exercises.

Paperclip artwork
Image source: Tamanna Rumee on Unsplash

Design challenge #6: pictionary with an emoji twist

Our love for Emojis is never-ending! Since most of us have an Emoji keyboard on our smartphones, this is an easy way to get everyone involved.

In this light-hearted challenge, participants can make use of creatively placed Emojis to depict popular movies, songs, or actions and let others guess the answers.

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If you haven’t played Pictionary before, it is a pretty simple game! Essentially, the aim of the game is to split into teams and guess what the designer on your team is trying to communicate when it's your turn.

In this version, you can write up a list of words that the designer can then try to depict using emojis. If you’re stumped for ideas, check out our list of 99 drawing ideas to find some fun things to draw!

You can either split your group into teams and play against each other or have one designer at a time select emojis for the entire team to guess.

Don't be fooled by the simplicity of it. Some. of these can be genuinely hard to figure out! This challenge is sure to get people involved and excited to play.

Here are some ideas of the kinds of activities, songs, and movies to use. It works best to pick something that everyone on your team will be able to identify.

  • The Breakfast Club (movie)
  • Don’t Stop Believing (song by Journey)
  • Skateboarding (activity)
Vector Drawing made with Linearity Curve
Vector Drawing made with Linearity Curve

In Curve, you can easily create new emojis with a tap by using Iconator.

Some of these challenges are easy for everyone to get involved in, while some benefit from the use of vector graphic software like Curve to help bring to life the creative end result.

You can go a few rounds, or just make sure everyone has a turn depending on how much time you have. And make sure to set a timer for 30 seconds or 1 minute to keep your designers on track when it's their turn.

The goal isn’t to produce anything perfect, just get an emoji picked out quickly, and let everyone guess what it could mean.

Continue the challenge

All these challenges are guaranteed to fire up the brain and inspire creativity and collaboration in the workspace. But don’t stop after doing just a few!

Making challenges like these a regular exercise not only helps in a creativity boost but also helps improve morale and team building.

Using fun, contemporary content challenges can encourage your design team to create more complex content and have a better grasp of the content that they create. We encourage you to make this a regular occurrence.

Consider also creating daily design challenges for your team, either through email updates or holding meetings with quick exercises to try. You could also set aside one day a week where you meet for a bit to try out some challenges.

You can even offer cash prizes or free swag for the challenge “winners” or participants. This is a great way to incentivize your team and make the games more competitive and fun.

And remember, design challenges don’t always have to be about complex content. They can be playful, entertaining, and light. Think of it as a way to use design tools and loosen up your team for their heavy design projects that they will spend the rest of their day on.

Now that you have some ideas of how to get started with creating design challenges for your team, we encourage you to think outside the box and create your own.

Jumpstart your ideas with Linearity Curve

Take your designs to the next level.

If you try out any of these challenges with your team or create new ones, let us know on social media.

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Cover Image by Jon Howell

6 Design challenges for you and your team | Linearity Curve
6 Design challenges for you and your team | Linearity Curve