Resource:How to create an activity that "gamifies" the design thinking process

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This wiki page is constructed based off an interview done with current University of Georgia PhD student and University Innovation Fellow, Gregory Wilson. The topic is his experience with creating, planning, and leading events at University of Georgia that expose students to Design Thinking by gamification of the process.



Gamification is one of the newest teaching methods being implemented in higher education in an effort to produce innovative and entrepreneurial minded individuals.  Increased need for divergent thinking means increased need for diverse teaching strategies.

Gamification is simply project based learning taught in a fun and competitive environment. The process allows a moderator or group of facilitators to task diverse groups of people to push the limits of their creativity. This style of project based learning creates a more engaging environment in which the lesson is more about the journey than the destination.

Target Audience

This is entirely up to you. The process of design thinking encourages diverse groups of people to collaborate on new innovative designs. Diversity among program participants should include those with different ethnicities, academic areas of interest and levels of expertise, age groups, sexes, moral beliefs and codes, the list goes on.

Gamification is also a great way to raise awareness about this innovative approach so try to get as many people involved as possible. It is important to keep in mind that the number of students you choose to participate must be small enough to be managed by moderators that are available.

Getting Started

Needed resources

To get started on planning an actual “game experience” you must first do some serious background work. You should start with something small in your community/college to begin to raise awareness. Maybe begin by hosting a few workshops or pop-up classes focusing on a particular subject (3D printing, giving business pitches, the Adobe Creative Suite, or website design). Talk to professors and begin to build a rapport with the professionals in your college and community.  Getting the community excited and involved is a big part of making your event a success.  


To get started you always need to discuss funding. Even a minor pop-up class in design thinking costs something, right? So here’s how you get the ball rolling.  

  • Start by talking to professors and other administrative personnel at your school. You need to express sincere interest and drive in order to bring people aboard.  
  • Remember to start small, as most big ideas are constructed of little parts. So, try to utilize the smaller aspects to slowly bring your dream into focus. Remember money will always be tight and starting with small inexpensive resources can help mitigate costs.
  • See the value in introducing students to the idea informally and gaining their interest in order to gain traction with professors and administrators.
  • Also look at university programs, grants, fundraising and alumni for contributions.

Planning Your Event


One of the most important aspects guaranteeing a large turnout for an event is strategically planning the event. When planning any event, you must take into consideration the various other events and activities that are already part of your university/college’s master schedule.

Schedule the event during a period of time in the year that is relatively devoid of major campus wide events and if possible repeatable in subsequent years to ensure continuation of the event.

Remember to make sure that the weather is in order for your big day as well.Also try to avoid major test schedules.


Student driven with faculty/expert support

There will also be a judging panel that will most likely consist of event staff, professor/instructors that are willing to dedicate their time, and any alumni that are also interested in being part of the event.


Send out information through social media, have moderators speak in classes of individuals you are trying to target, or send out mass emails. Make sure you get the word out.


  • Cards
  • White Boards
  • Rapid prototyping supplies
  • Room for movement
  • Space to gather for awards
  • Quick 5 minute game ideas
  • Rubric Cards for judges
  • Mapping system for stations

The Game Itself

Balanced Teams are Paramount

Background info is very important if you want to keep the playing field even.  You may want to develop a system in which you can learn a little bit about the participants areas of expertise.  The playing field wouldn’t be balanced if you have a team comprised of strictly engineers against a team of people who have never had a design concept in their lives.  

Your goal is to create a system in which the teams have balanced resources as much as possible. One good option is to have the participants state their academic background on whatever apparatus you choose to pick teams with.


Stay away from too much structure.  Innovation comes to each individual in their own way and time. You must allow the freedom for your participants to navigate the game as they please.

Community vs Competition

It is important to keep the spirit of community and collaboration in mind when planning such an event.  While the ultimate goal of the participants may be to win the competition, you goal should remain focused on bringing the community together in a spirit of cooperative innovation.  There are several ways to help keep the game focused on cooperation.

  • Give out points for sharing information or different skill sets with another team or award a special prize just for walking another team through a procedure.
  • Try to ensure groups of friends or acquaintances are on different teams while encouraging them to help each other out.


Try to come up with innovative prize ideas that can incorporate the resources outside your campus community.  Talk to local business especially those that have experts in design and innovation or are interested in new ideas for start ups.  

Instead of looking for one Big prize, look for a few small prizes to keep the fuel going throughout the entire game.

Scoring lookout

Always be aware that there will be those who try to cut corners and “cheat the system”. You must remember that you must also manage the participants and their expectations as well. You can find yourself in a controversial situation when dealing with points for design.

Everyone has a different need and point of view. Keep in mind you are a mentor or a guide here to help each individual person to achieve their absolute best. Coaching and encouraging are your two best options in keeping the game focused on innovation.  

Additional Ideas


Depending on how intricate the design process is for your event, you may want to think about having workshops which pertain to the skills needed for the event. For instance, if you are making 3D printer available for use or maybe Arduino boards, you may want to have an instructor host a small workshop or series of workshops to help build different skills which would help the teams score higher with their designs.

Mentors, specialized judges, and guest speakers

Nothing like having a group of individuals with specialities around right? Adding a team of specially trained individual to help coach and expand on new ideas can only boost the level of innovation and competition. These individuals exist all throughout your college campus and outlying community. These specialists may be people that you speak with everyday already. You will never know unless you ask.

People who have taking the time to become a specially trained in any field usually has a passion for that field and typically would love to “show off their stuff”.  Especially in an environment which may attract future clientele. Finding people to judges, mentors or guest speakers for your event may not be as hard as you think. You just have to go out and ask.

Remember: Utilize all the resources at your disposal.  The guide here provides only a few avenues to success.  Be creative and search beyond the obvious.  Above all be persistent in your goals and try to have fun!

Written by:

Ishwar Agarwal, Bailey-Jean Walker, Terry LiMark Raymond Jr.Corey McMillan