Evil 8’s: Transforming Design Sprints with Creative Freedom

July 8, 2019
Dana Vetan

We started running Design Sprints in 2016 to help our clients build better digital products faster. Since then, we have traveled the world and helped companies big and small incorporate this framework into their innovation toolkit. We facilitated Design Sprints for cross-functional product teams, marketing teams, production teams, sales teams, executive teams, and so on. No matter the industry, company culture, or country, inducing the ‘fail fast, learn fast’ mindset is not as easy as it sounds. Even if it makes total sense in theory, it isn't straightforward to apply in practice.

There are multiple reasons for this, but one of the most important ones is the pressure to perform. In a world where we value outcomes and results, smart decisions, and influential leaders, the pressure to perform causes lots of anxiety and stress. Anxiety triggers biases. When relying too heavily on biases, we end up following the ‘safe path.’ Following the safe path means sticking with old ways of working, previous decisions, and not experimenting anymore.

In a Design Sprint, the pressure to perform makes the sprint team members generate more common ideas, safer solutions and rely on best practices.

Disruptive innovation, bold ideas, out of the box thinking are harder to achieve when high stakes are in play.

At the Design Sprint Academy, we always try to break down boundaries, push the limits and help the sprint team members escape their current status quo. So, we looked into different tools that help boost creativity and came up with EVIL 8’s, a 15 min warm-up exercise, following the Lightning Demos and right before the 4-step Solution Sketch.

What is the Evil 8 Exercise?

Evil 8’s is a structural approach to expanding our point of view that relies on reverse thinking.

Reverse thinking = turning around a challenge and looking for the opposite ideas.

Evil 8’s is a mix of two ideation tools: Crazy 8’s and brainwriting.

Crazy 8’s = It is a fast sketching exercise that challenges people to sketch eight distinct ideas in eight minutes. The goal is to push people beyond their first idea by suppressing self-judgment and making their ideas tangible.

Source: designsprintkit.withgoogle.com

We needed the time boundaries of Crazy 8ths to stop people from overthinking and the paper interface (a sheet of paper folded into 8) to make thoughts and ideas tangible, easy to comprehend by others.

BrainWriting = is a technique similar to brainstorming, where the ideas created by a person are being passed on to the next individual who uses them as a trigger for their own ideas.

Source:   http://www.andyeklund.com

People can’t think creatively on command, so we needed the ‘yes, and …’ silent brainwriting technique to enhance divergent thinking and give everyone an equal opportunity to contribute

How to facilitate this exercise?

Instructions for a team of 8 sprinters:

  1. With energy and enthusiasm, introduce this step as a warm-up exercise before the solution generation phase.
  2. Before giving the Evil 8’s instructions, get the sprint team to review the Long-term Goal, Sprint Questions, the user pain points, and the target they voted on the user journey map.
  3. Hand out a paper sheet (A4 or letter size) and ask everyone to fold it into half three times and unfold it to get the eight panels.
  4. Explain the timing of the brainwriting and that you will keep track of time during the entire exercise: (1min for the first round, 1min 30s for the second round, 2 min for the next six rounds)
  5. Explain the clockwise process for passing the pages around the table
  6. Give everyone a clear mission for this exercise: “You’ll need to come up with the most ridiculous, silly, stupid solution to make the user problem even graver than before. Generate the worse possible ideas you can think of and stop at nothing.”
  7. Reassure everyone there are no rules, no criteria, and no limit to their ideation process, except for the time boundaries. Check for questions.
  8. Remind the team to review the others’ ideas quickly before coming up with their own ideas and modify, flip around, or remix ideas.
  9. Set the time timer and begin the rounds.
  10. Announce each round's end and ask people to pass their paper to the person on their right.
  11. The exercise ends when the person who sketched the first of the eight panels receives their sheet of paper back.
  12. At the end of the session, collect all the pages and stick them to the wall as in an art museum.

What is the end result?

We have asked the attendees of our last three Design Sprint Bootcamps in Berlin, London, and NYC to experiment with this tool in the context of helping a user find better inspiration for getting thoughtful gifts. And so they did. They created some of the most unfortunate possible solutions to make the user, Leon, more miserable than before and extend his problem to an entirely new level. In some cases, the user was even killed by smelly socks.

Here are some of their Evil 8’s sketches:

The EX
The User = The Target.
The Sister

During the exercise, we could observe everyone laughing, puffing, and marveling at the craziness of their team members' ideas. With this positive state came a liberating feeling, allowing everyone to break down barriers and remove some psychological constraints.

The realization that this is the worst everyone can do without triggering any negative consequences reduces the pressure to perform and opens up the mind to new, bolder and courageous possibilities.

New! 🔊 The Evil 8’s Template in now available in Mural & Miro.

We recommend using EVIL 8’s when you need to prepare the team for an ideation session or reduce the pressure for results.

If you want to experiment with the method firsthand and learn more about design sprints, join Design Sprint Academy’s public courses online.