Visual Exercises for a Better Future: A Workshop at Admerica 2016

By Heidi Harper

Every year the American Advertising Federation hosts an annual conference to explore innovations made in the fields of advertising, marketing, and communications. This summer conference brings together nearly 800 members from across the AAF network—from agencies and media companies to clients and suppliers—to connect and share about the future of the industry.


In addition to creating the identity for this year’s Admerica conference, Tremendousness was invited to lead a hands-on Learning Lab for attendees. Although tempted to focus our session on our best tips for drawing robots, we instead spent our time on something a bit more useful: visual thinking… and how it leads to better collaboration and better ideas.

So, what is visual thinking?
At its core, visual thinking is simple. It’s taking every opportunity to think and collaborate in pictures so that people can really “see what you mean”.  It’s a way of taking what’s in your head and putting it on paper—or even better, on the wall—for others to build on. It’s not about being a great artist or making things beautiful and perfect, but about allowing teams to generate and iterate ideas rapidly and clearly, and have fun in the process.

And what better group to talk about this with than a room full of advertisers and marketers. Technology is speeding up our world and challenging the entire advertising community to create more, better, faster. Keeping up requires a more agile way for teams to think, align, and be creative.

Hmm, ok, but now what?
Rather than lecture about visual thinking we decided to let the markers do the work, and led our room full of participants through a 90 minute practice ideation journey to showcase the value of various visual exercises. The results were a lot of laughter, great conversation, and some pretty amazing new product ideas. Mark Cuban, get out that checkbook!  

Here’s a quick review of the session:

Icebreaker 2
Exercise #1: Icebreaker: To kick things off, we asked participants to write their name and draw their super power. Exercises like these are a sure fire way to loosen up the room. Don’t want to talk about super powers? That’s ok—you also can ask participants to draw what they wanted to be when they grew up, or their favorite hobby, what a robot version of themselves would look like, or their next vacation destination. The key is to get people drawing, which is also a great way to get them talking!

Exercise #2:
Empathy mapping: The goal of this brainstorming exercise is to gain a deeper level of understanding of the target audience. What do they want? What concerns them?  Typically there are multiple audiences involved, but for the purposes of our learning lab, we had participants focus on one consumer: the elusive millennial. Groups developed a picture of their target millennial and brainstormed—with pictures and Post-Its—what their consumer was thinking, feeling, seeing and hearing. Across 16 groups many similar insights emerged: Millennials are all about androgyny, good coffee, music, and convenience. 

Exercise #3:
Visual product ideation: With everyone on the same page about who the target consumer is and what they really want, the next step was to develop a product based on that consumer’s needs. We asked each group to come up with an idea and gave them 30 minutes to develop it, draw it, and present it. Some key questions to answer along the way: what does your product do, how does it work? How is your product different and better? Who will fear this product? The results ranged from traveling couches (The Chillax) to male hygiene items (The Man-Pon… yep, no further description needed!). 

While these three exercises only begin to scratch the surface, they definitely give you the jumpstart you need for your next team brainstorming session. And here are a few more photos.

Thanks for hosting us AAF and Admerica 2016, and thanks to all workshop participants!

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