3 exercises to sharpen your UX skills

By Jennifer DeRome | September 24, 2015
3 exercises to sharpen your UX skills

Being a great UXer takes a lot of work.

You need to be creative, empathetic, articulate, and patient (among many, many, other qualities). And those traits don’t just manifest overnight.

Like an athlete, you need to train and exercise your UX muscles as often as possible to stay in top form.

To help keep your UX game at its best, we’ve collected a few helpful exercises to keep you in tip-top shape. So put on your legwarmers and headbands, and get to work!

1. Prison cake care package

This exercise comes from the folks at How Design News, and it’s a great way to flex your creative muscles—especially if your team is feeling a bit stuck.

How to do it

  • You’ll need: A whiteboard or pen and paper for each participant or team.
  • Duration: Three minutes to run the exercise, and up to 30 minutes for discussion time.
  • The exercise: Have each team or individual imagine that someone they care about has landed themselves in prison. They’re desperate to spring the prisoner, but the only way to do it is through a loophole with the prison. No contraband is allowed in the prison, with one exception: if it can fit in a cake. Fortunately, everyone is a professional baker. Your team has three minutes to list out as many tools as possible that would fit into a cake, and that would help the prisoner escape. There’s no limit to the number of items, just as long as they’d fit into a normal sized cake.

What you’ll get out of it

When you’re feeling less than creative, one of the best ways to get unstuck is to prove to yourself you’ve still got it. While you may think you’re fresh out of ideas, at the end of this exercise—a whopping three minutes—you’ll have a list of creative solutions to a really big problem.

This exercise is a great reminder that solving problems can be a great motivator, and time—or the lack of it—shouldn’t stall your creative process.

2. Party invitations

Who doesn’t love a good party? This exercise, courtesy of Cyd Harrell via Gamestorming, is a great way to help teams better understand the onboarding process of a product or service.

How to do it

  • You’ll need: A piece of paper and pen for each participant—between five and 30 participants works best
  • Duration: 15 minutes for the exercise and 15 to 45 minutes for discussion time
  • The exercise:  Ask each participant to imagine they’re creating a party invitation for a product or service you’re all working on together. The design should incorporate all the details you’d include for a regular party: who, what, where, when, and why. Give your participants at least 10 to 15 minutes to write and iterate on their invitation designs. Once everyone has finished, it’s time to gather everyone and get some ideas on the basics of the party. The facilitator will take ideas from each group on various aspects of the party, like:

- What was the party called? - Was there a theme to the party? - Who was invited? - Was there a dress code? - Would there be food or refreshments

Next the group will review each invitation individually. After everyone has presented, the group will narrow down the ideas and concepts to form the final design.

What you’ll get out of it

While a party invitation may not sound totally relevant to onboarding at first, it turns out to be a great way to illustrate the process. After all, when we’re onboarding customers or users, we’re inviting them to use our product or service, right? This exercise will help teams reframe the onboarding process in a way that’s both insightful and fun.

3. The refrigerator exercise

This one comes from our very own head of product and engineering, Mark Towfiq. While it was designed to be an interview tool for designers, it’s also a great way to get individuals and teams to develop better holistic thinking skills when it comes to user research and user-centered design.

How to do it

  • You’ll need: A sheet of paper or a whiteboard
  • Duration: It can take between 10 to 30 minutes depending on the size of your group
  • The exercise: First, draw a series of different models of refrigerators from past years, starting with the oldest and ending with the most current model. Between four and five models work best.


Next ask each participant to explain why the design changed from model to model and discuss amongst the group. While you can give some guidance on what you’re looking for, it’s helpful to start out with as little instruction as possible so you can see what your team comes up with on their own.

What you’ll get out of it

This exercise is meant to be less structured because you want to get a better understanding of how your team thinks about—and understands—design.

Based on your participants' answers, you’ll get a better understanding of how well they understand the relationships between social, technical, and design influences. It will also help participants practice their communication and empathy skills as they go through the exercise of explaining the rationale behind each design.  

Creating delightful experiences isn’t easy, but you can do it with a regular practice. Try these exercises with your teams, and share any additional exercises you’ve tried and loved with us on Twitter.

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About the author(s)
Jennifer DeRome

Jennifer is a Senior Content Strategist for UserTesting. When she's not dreaming up new ways to connect with audiences, you can find her traveling around the world or enjoying a glass of wine with friends.