My students sketching ideas during the Pictionary game at Center Centre.

A few years ago, I facilitated a storytelling game for a UX meetup in Philadelphia. The goal of the meetup was for attendees to play the game so they could learn how to use it at their jobs.

During the game, one team decided to use goats as their theme. They giggled and joked about goat videos during the entire game. They laughed so much they lost sight of what we were . They left the activity in high spirits but without the skills I wanted them to gain.

After that event, I realized a few things about facilitating . As a facilitator, I need to:

  1. Choose a game that will get the outcome I want.
  2. Lead the game effectively so people learn what I want them to learn.

It’s okay to have fun while learning. I want people to enjoy themselves. I just don’t want people to get so silly they’re distracted from the goal of the activity.

UX Pictionary

Since that night in Philadelphia, I’ve gotten better at deciding when to facilitate activities with games and how to facilitate them.

I recently developed an activity at Center Centre I call UX Pictionary. I use it with students sometimes during our daily reflection meeting.

At the end of each day, fellow faculty member Thomas Michaud and I lead a reflection activity with students. We use this time to reflect on something we learned or something we accomplished. We use an array of activities for reflection so the daily session doesn’t get stale.

The idea for a Pictionary game popped into my head one day, so I tried it with students during reflection. Since that day, I’ve led the activity multiple times, refining it each time.

Here’s how I run UX Pictionary:

  1. I determine a goal for the reflection activity. I typically choose a topic students are familiar with, such as, “What is something significant you accomplished this week?”
  2. I ask each student to sketch their accomplishment on a whiteboard. I instruct them to sketch using only pictures or symbols — they can’t use words or numbers to communicate their answer.
  3. I set a timer for 3–4 minutes and instruct students to sketch.
  4. As a group, students take turns reviewing each other’s sketches. The group guesses what each sketch is about.

I give the students a few guidelines for guessing:

  1. The student can’t divulge what their sketch is until other students guess it correctly.
  2. The student can answer yes or no questions about the sketch. For example, someone might ask, “Is this sketch about the Interaction course?” The student can respond “yes” or “no.”
  3. The student who made the sketch can add to the sketch or modify it as other students guess.
My students guessing the content of each other’s sketches during the UX Pictionary game.

While guessing, students laugh a lot and make jokes. They stay on track and don’t get too silly or distracted. (On the rare occasions where they do get distracted, I rein them in so we can focus on the goals of the exercise.)

Once the group makes the correct guess, I pause before moving on. I ask the student to share why they decided to sketch that accomplishment.

It’s important to discuss the accomplishment after students guess it. The discussion helps students meet the goal of the activity: To reflect upon what we accomplished so we can achieve similar results in the future.

During the discussion, I ask questions like, “Why did you pick this learning accomplishment to sketch? What makes this accomplishment so significant for you?” I may even ask, “How would you approach this situation in the future if you had to do it again?”

Everyone listens and learns as the student answers these questions.

Opportunities for Practice

UX Pictionary doesn’t just help students reflect on what they achieve. It helps them practice an essential UX skill — sketching.

At Center Centre, students learn to sketch early in the program during the Sketching and Prototyping course. During the course, they learn that sketching is about communicating ideas to others. It’s not about creating beautiful works of art.

Students have many opportunities to sketch during project work. We also find other ways for students to keep their sketching skills sharp. UX Pictionary is a great way to do just that.

When to Use Games

Games can be an excellent way for students and practitioners to learn UX design. They can also be a detriment if they’re included at the wrong time or for the wrong reason.

The benefits of games: Games are great for raising a group’s energy levels, keeping people engaged, and making the work enjoyable, which can yield better results.

The drawbacks of games: Games can distract from the goals of the work. If people get so focused on playing, competing, or making each other laugh, they can lose sight of the goals of the activity and not achieve the intended results.

I’ve developed a set of working guidelines for when I use games at Center Centre:

  1. Make sure the game helps the team achieve a relevant goal. UX Pictionary helps students reflect upon what they recently learned or accomplished. It also helps them practice sketching skills. I avoid playing a game for the sake of playing a game.
  2. Use games in low-risk situations when it’s safe to experiment. Our daily reflection meeting is a great example of a low-risk activity. Unless we have something critical or urgent to reflect upon, I can try new exercises like the UX Pictionary game.
  3. Use games that are easy to plan and execute. Over the years, I’ve led games with both students and practitioners that took hours to prepare. Now, I usually avoid games that take more than 30 minutes of preparation. I’ll make an exception if I can use the game multiple times with students, or if I think a game is the best way for students to learn a skill.

What UX Games Have You Led?

Have you facilitated any games with your UX students or with your UX team members? Have you developed any guidelines for when you choose to lead games or not lead them? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks to Jimmy Chandler for his help with this article.

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