Playing the Game

Preparing for the Game

This game has a lot of physical preparation, so make certain you allocate enough time. You need to protect all the tables customers will be using; cover them with either butcher paper, plastic table cloth, or easel paper, because customers are going to be creating boxes using glue, markers, and other messy materials. Providing paper is recommended because it allows customers to sketch ideas before working on their product box. Save this paperyou can often obtain additional insights by looking at the "doodles" and sketches that customers create on the table as they create their boxes. Paper also contributes to an enjoyable experience because it clearly signals that they're going to have fun.

Use relatively large plain white boxes; 12"x5"x13" or similar size works well. But the size shouldn't be much larger, because part of the magic is in constraining the amount of room that people have to create their boxes.

Bring enough blank boxes to allow everyone to create his or her own box and include a few extra to support experimentation. You won't need all of them; some customers will spontaneously form small groups and work together to create their box. That is okay. Paradoxically, it doesn't work the other way: if you try to force customers to work together, they'll resent it and ask for their own box!

Product Box, Vision Box, and Extreme Data Sheets

Techniques that might appear at the surface to be similar to Product Box include Jim Highsmith's Vision Box and Dean Leffingwell's Extreme Data Sheet. In Jim's Vision Box, development teams work together to design the box that contains their future product. Jim emphasizes the same kinds of design elements of a Product Boxthe product name, key selling points, compelling features, and so forth. Dean recommends a similar approach, except that he uses a technical and marketing data sheet format instead of a box. Both approaches work well at the beginning of the project, when the internal development team needs to generate clarity on their goals. Like Product Box, they are fun and engaging, especially when internal teams are selling their box to each other.

Upon closer examination, however, there is a considerable difference between the Product Box Innovation Game and the Vision Box or Extreme Data Sheet exercise. In Product Box, the focus is external, on your customer. What do they want? How do they design the box? What images do they use?. In Vision Box/Extreme Data Sheet, the focus is internal, on the internal product team. What does the internal team want? How does the internal team design the box? What images does the internal team choose?

This difference in focus also results in a different process. In Product Box, we celebrate the many and varied boxes that customers generate during the game, because these create a rich source of information that we can mine for innovations. In Vision Box or Extreme Data Sheet, the goal is to create a unified consensus around what the team is going to do. Thus, although many boxes or data sheets are created, the team works together until one is selected.

When you're looking to create the foundation of customer understanding that drives innovation, use the externally focused Product Box. When you're looking for a fun way to help an internally focused project team gain clarity about what they want to build, especially at the beginning of a project, use Vision Box/Extreme Data Sheet.

Bring at least four to six sample product boxes to illustrate what you're looking for. Cereal boxes, old consumer-class, shrink-wrapped software boxes, and cartons of yogurt are all excellent choices. Cereal boxes are especially useful because they contain several design elements that you should review with your customers to help them get started, including

  • The name of the manufacturer

  • The name of the product

  • A "data sheet" detailing nutritional information

  • Colorful characters or symbols that are designed to appeal to specific market segments (such as cartoon characters for cereals focused at children)

  • Target slogans ("Heart Healthy" or "Tastes Great")

  • Coupons or points to encourage repeat purchases

  • Offers for "free stuff" inside the box

  • Ideas on how you can spend more money ("Send $9.95 for a free watch!")

Packaging design can be as creative as product box design. If appropriate, bring product boxes that contained different products and let your customers observe how designers packaged the materials.

You might be worried that in a mixed group of customers some might be unwilling to participate because of a fear that they could give away secrets to their potential competition. As described in Part One, your best bet is to carefully screen for this up front when selecting participants, and avoid inviting customers who are direct competitors where your product is the axis of competition.

A related problem occurs when you have many shy customers who may not be interested in participating. When this is a concern, consider creating some kind of game or prize for the "best" box. Because it is almost a certainty that at least one person will want to win the prize, general competitive human nature will kick in, and you should find yourself with several excellent entries into your competition. If you choose to conduct a contest, let the people who are participating in the exercises be the judges. Give each person one vote; the box with the most votes wins! If you're stuck on what makes a good prize, try movie tickets.

It is especially important to include a cross-functional team in this game. Marketing, sales, and support can all benefit from seeing how customers sell your product. We've seen clients create entire customer service programs based on a slogan written on one of their customer's product boxes; this might not have happened if the customer service representative was absent from the team.

Have Fun at Arts and Crafts and Teacher Supply Stores

One of the fun aspects of preparing for a Product Box game is purchasing the supplies. You can just wander around an arts and crafts, party planning, or teachers' supply store and buy stuff. I've seen customers use plastic springs, smiley faces, pipe cleaners, and glitter glue. They've cut boxes apart, taped them together, and connected them with modeling clay. Buy just about anything you want. Give it to your customers and encourage them to have some fun using itand they will.


  • One blank bright white product box for each participant.

  • Colored markers, crayons, pencils, pens for each table.

  • Glitter glue for each table.

  • Plain white and colored paper for each table.

  • Stickers (stars or words or images, like "New" or "Exciting"). Check out for ideas.

  • Two or three sample boxes for each table.

  • Butcher paper or easel paper for covering each table.

Innovation Games(c) Creating Breakthrough Products Through Collaborative Play
Innovation Games: Creating Breakthrough Products Through Collaborative Play
ISBN: 0321437292
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2006
Pages: 144
Authors: Luke Hohmann

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