How To Make Any Doodle or Image A Collaborative Game!

Visual thinking and visual interaction models are hot topics right now. People like Sunni Brown from Bright Spot, Dave Gray and James Macanufo from XPlane, Dan Roam of the Napkin series, and my friend and colleague Paul Germeraad from Intellectual Assets are creating and leveraging powerful visual metaphors to help businesses solve complex problems faster and with more clarity than ever before. And while visual thinking and visual interaction models are “hot”, people like David Sibbet and his company The Grove have been helping companies solve complex problems through visual metaphors for decades.

But — and there is always an unfortunate “but”, isn’t there? — there are some problems with using these kinds of visual images in problem-solving. You can’t use them online; the insights often evaporate after the meeting; you can’t generate and integrate new insights from the foundation of previous insights; and, unless you’re a skilled artist, you can’t easily generate your own images. Now that last point isn’t entirely true, as many of the most powerful collaborative images are based on simple drawings, but lots of us feel intimidated by the many great artists that are out there.

Fortunately, the Innovation Games® online platform is designed to solve these problems. Using our platform, you can convert any visual image into a powerful collaborative game. You can then collaborate with any number of people using these images. This post — which was inspired by showing Sunni Brown and James Macufuso how I could convert one of their images into an online game while I was talking with them on the phone — shows how you too can create a collaborative online game out of any visual image. Along the way, I’ll provide you with some insights into the images that we’ll be creating and making available as easy to use game templates over the next few months.


Sunni Brown’s On the Cover Game

One of Sunni Brown’s games is On the Cover, in which you “suspend disbelief and envision an ideal future state that is so stellar that it landed [your] organization on the cover of a well-known magazine”. It’s related to our Innovation Games Product Box and Remember the Future, and while Sunni emphasizes organizational change and vision, the game is easily and readily adapted to product and service enhancements. [Note: David Sibbet, in his comments below, provides additional history on the development of this game. Thanks, David.]

One of the things that bring this game to life is the simple, yet clear and powerfully compelling drawings of Sunni. While we on the phone discussing our various techniques, I made the rather bold claim that I could convert any of Sunni’s image into a collaborative visual game in about 10 minutes. She laughingly took me up on that challenge and emailed me the following image:

On the Cover

Sunni describes the game regions as follows:

Cover is the BIG story of their success
Headlines convey the substance of the cover story
Sidebars reveal interesting facets of the cover story
Quotes can be from anyone as long as they’re related to the context
Brainstorm is for documenting initial ideas for the cover story
Images are for supporting the content with illustrations

Here is the step-by-step process of converting this image and her description of these areas into a collaborative game.

  1. Prepare the image.
  2. Upload the image.
  3. Create the game.
  4. Play the game. As much and as many times as you like!

Step 1: Prepare the Image

At present, our system has some pretty strict requirements on the size and shape of images. We’ll be fixing that in the next few months, but the first step was re-sizing Sunni’s image into a 580 x 575 pixels. That was pretty easy.


Step 2: Upload the image

Now that image was ready, I logged into our system and uploaded the prepared image.


From there, follow the steps to upload an image. In this case, we’re uploading a custom background image.


Step 3: Create the Game

Now that I had the image, I wanted to create a game that I could play with others. We refer to this process as creating a game definition. This process consists of the following activities:

  1. You create a game.
  2. You select the image that wants as the background image and the images that represent the items (icons) that players will drag around when playing the game. In this case, I simply chose Sunni’s image.
  3. You define the layers and regions that help you understand where players put items. Again, this process was simple because I just followed Sunni’s outline of the image. I’ll explain this more in a bit.

I created a project “Games with Sunni” and clicked on the “Add Game” icon. I selected the “Design your own visual collaboration game” option.


In the next screen, I created a pretty simple description  — after all, I was on the phone with Sunni!



Now I was ready to define select the image and the items that players would place on the image.


As you may know, the core activity in our visual collaboration games is dragging around icons on the image (you can think of these icons as the online equivalent to the Post-ITs® that Innovation Games® Trained Facilitators to use in-person sessions to capture ideas). Chances are pretty good that you’ll want to know where these items have been placed. To help you determine where items are placed, our game definition process enables you to create any number of layers on the image. Once you create a layer, you draw regions. The regions are the places where players are putting their ideas. This multidimensional process of creating layers and regions enables you to create some amazing result — for example, you can easily determine all of the ideas that were placed in the “BIG Headlines” region.



The last step was selecting the item images for what people could put “On The Cover”. Since this is a game that envisions a “better” or “happier” future, I selected a simple “smiley face”. Meaning, during the gameplay, players will grab and drag “smiley face” icons onto the image, placing them where they want. As players describe these icons, we’ll learn a great deal about their perceptions of cool features. And since any player in the game can edit, move, or even delete these items, we have a very effective, collaborative platform for complex decision making.

Now, the game is ready to play!


Step 4: Playing the Game!

I completed my task — we had a game definition! Think of a game definition as a Scrabble® game that hasn’t been played — you have a game board and all of the pieces. Now you need to get some players and play!

In this case, I wanted to play the game as a Party. Think of a party as a “dinner party” — you’re going to be inviting a specific number of people to play the game, and you know each person. You’re the host, and you’ll likely facilitate the interactions among the players. Parties enable you to create games in which you can observe the interactions between carefully chosen groups of people.

In my test game with Sunni, I invited Sunni and Tami Carter, our Director of Community and Training, to play (If you want to learn how to do what we do, call Tami!). When the game starts, the layers and regions are turned off, so that players won’t have to worry about them. Instead, the game provides real-time visual feedback on the placement of items. The means that when Tami wanted to add a smiley face into the “Big Headlines” area, she could keep dragging the item until she knew it was in the right location. This means that for the first time ever you can allow people to visually collaborate on an item you define and know exactly where they wanted to place an item — not by coordinates, but by semantics. And this collaboration happens in real-time: If Tami creates an item, I can move it and Sunni can improve it.

Here is the game image without layers and regions:

During the game, players can easily turn on the layers and regions. As a facilitator, I often encourage players to do this once the game has started as it helps them make achieve their collaboration goals.

Finally, the tabular view helps you easily process all of the great ideas. Specifically, you can easily identify all of the ideas in the given areas in the tabular view:

Really, Any Image? And I Can Do This?

Still skeptical that you can do this with an image? I understand. Our model of collaborative play is a truly different way of thinking. So, let’s do it again, in rapid succession, this time using an image that James Macanufo sent to me while I was on a phone call with him. And yes, I did all of these steps – on the phone.

First, the image. At XPlane, they use the following image to help their clients to better understand and empathize with their users. This is a great example of another visual collaboration game — a very clear image, with easily defined regions that can be played in a collaborative, distributed team.

So, I uploaded the image:

I then defined a single layer and a region for each portion of the image. I chose smiley faces (again) and also added some frowny faces as part of the game definition. Voila! Another game, ready to play. And play. And play some more!

Why play, and play, play some more, you ask? Because you might want to use the same model to help different teams in your company create empathy for your customers. You could play two or three games with the development team to help them create a better product. You could play a few games with your sales team to help them understand the emotional drivers of the sale. You could even play the games with your channel partners so that you could gain their understanding of how they perceive your joint customers.


But I’m Not a Graphic Artist

That’s OK. I’m not a graphic artist either. The good news is that you don’t have to be a graphic artist to use our platform. Assuming that you’re not significantly visually impaired, you can easily select images that can help you accomplish your goals.

Let’s say you’re working on a roadmap for a product or service, and you’re quite comfortable with Ted Levitt’s “Whole Product Strategy” model for product differentiation. You could use this as your image, defining regions to match the classic definition of a whole product.

Or, you could just use a simpler, and more visually direct, picture of a roadmap. The image icons that your customers place on the picture could be icons of cars.

We continue to find new ways in which visual collaboration can help organizations solve complex problems. You can, too. Create some images. Experiment. See what works.

And stay tuned — our team is preparing some really exciting new releases that will continue to drive the future of what visual collaboration can do.

I’d also like to thank one of our Innovation Games trained facilitators, Jeff Brantley, who made the introduction to Sunni and motivated what is sure to turn into a powerful collaboration. And I’d like to thank Sunni, James, and Paul for the many conversations and emails we’ve shared, and will continue to share, over the next few weeks. I’d also like to thank David Sibbet, for being a leader in this field and for helping me improve the accuracy of this post.

Finally, if you have a favorite visual collaboration game, visual metaphor, or visual image that you’d like to see turned into a game, but are not entirely sure how to make this happen, just send us a note. My team and any member of our extended team of trained facilitators would be very happy to help you play Innovation Games.

12 Responses to “How To Make Any Doodle or Image A Collaborative Game!”

  1. Luke, very cool post. It’s so nice to make transparent how you play these online games. I’ll be sure and keep this technique on my radar with future clients – especially since Gamestorming comes out soon.


  2. Dear John and Sunni:

    Love this post and the reframing of this kind of template use as “games.” I would have liked it even more if you had acknowledged that the framework is a one-for-one adaptation of The Grove’s Cover Story Vision Graphic Guide that Sunni learned while working for us. Your graphics are different John, but the items are identical. It does indeed work and has been an anchor activity for Strategic Visioning since 1995.

  3. David –
    Thanks for your comment. Did you mean to reference me (Luke), James, or a third party named John? As for the graphics in this post, Sunni and James provided the graphics I attributed to them, I provided the other graphics for Ted Levitt’s Whole Product Strategy and roadmap.

    I was also unaware of The Grove’s Cover Story Vision Graphic Guide and that Sunni’s work was a derivative of that. I just finished watching the video of you explaining this work on YouTube: It was fantastic!

    While we have a library of images that we’re adding to our system, I remain hopeful that you will want to contribute your considerable skill and creativity so that people who want to leverage your work in an online, collaborative tool can do so.

    Thanks, again.


  4. Hi Luke,
    Love this article. As a drawing-impaired strategy facilitator (who I think may have been the only person to fail a Grove course), I love the idea of being able to turn a graphic template, simple and ad hoc, or more structured like Grove’s and Sunni’s, into a shared on line collaboration game. Having a library of images or graphic templates just better empowers us as facilitators and our clients to think creatively, collectively and more quickly than is the norm in a typical meeting. Especially exciting for virtual teams.

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