Design The Box, a Tool to Develop Creativity

Design The Box, a Tool to Develop Creativity

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We live in a world that is constantly digitising itself, every day we read articles that try to explain how much the human race is becoming superfluous. But not ideas: those are, and will be, essential to every single business for a long time, ideas are here to stay. Design tries to help companies, when it is mixed with the hard world of business (no, not that kind of “hard”), it could enhance the value enormously.

Today I’m gonna explain you a tool called “design the box”. I’m gonna tell you everything I know about this technique and after having read it, you would then be able to exploit it on your own or with your team.

Let’s begin…

This tool could be used in order to let people create a product / service starting with the box that will hold the idea itself, instead of beginning with what we would find inside, as everyone usually does (yes, I know, services don’t have a box, but come on, a little bit of imagination). A tool transforming the intangible into tangible.

Remember: as designers teach, the idea generation process has to be iterative, without a defined end: the process ends when everyone are happy with the solutions they found. I’m not telling you to keep on refining the design the box process until the end of time, not at all, but it’s important to let ideas flow, and letting them to achieve a good result: the best trade off between quality and cost (a.k.a. time).


Incentivate the team, or the future designer, to think through the customer eyes, forcing them to focus only on elements that are essential in order to achieve the biggest value for customers. We’re talking about being able to spot main feature and benefits.


During the past this tool had been used to design various elements: products, services, best practice definition, methodologies to improve processes, definition of the ideal candidate for a job position or for designing pieces of software (in fact this technique is commonly attributed to Bill Shakelford and Jim Highsmith, authors of the method for agile software development).


Being a tool really similar to brainstorming, the best moment in which you should insert it is during the IDEATION PHASE, step in which a lot of ideas arise and are later selected, in order to spot the most useful ones.


As we’ll see in a little bit, it would be better to create small focus groups or singles, everyone designing their own box. Dividing people in small groups will help the process to be agile, there will be a lot of feedbacks and, hopefully, different.


The moderator, also known as the one that is accounted of managing the entire process of idea generation helping teams in the process bur without limiting them too much, will have to ensure:

  • Enough boxes having a light colour (so that writings would be easily readable). It could be also possible to use cereal boxes they already have modules (logo, nutritional value box, images, payoff) that could help and inspire people during ideation.
  • Sharpies of various colours to design the boxes. Is very important to avoid pencils having a too sharp tip in order disincentivate people to add a lot of useless elements but the most important ones.
  • stickers, newspaper, scissors, …
  • Creation of teams composed of 6 people maximum
  • Defining a limit of 1,5/2 hours for all the steps composing the process. But as we said earlier, if people will need more time, just give them more time.
  • The stopwatch that indicates the remaining time will be placed in the room where everyone will be able to look at it.



In the first step, even before the box to be designed, teams will have to think about what there will be inside the box: in few words the product or the service that has to be created. In this first step the moderator could help people thanks to little hints like:

  • input on possible name of the project to be created
  • Definition of customers and personas
  • Feature that the product will need to have

It’s very important to give some information to help idea generation, but not too much because they could limit the process and kill creativity.

It’s true, In the beginning I said that everything begins with the box and not with the element inside it but:

  • You wouldn’t be able to design the box without thinking a little bit about what there’s inside;
  • The design of the box is based on the element inside, but the process doesn’t revolve around it at all.


People in the team will have 30 minutes to create the box that will contain the product or service that has to be sold. They should  imagine the box to be put on a shelf inside a supermarket, and thinking about which element should be on the box in order to arise the interest of the potential customer, such as:

  • Name of the product to be created;
  • Main customer segment;
  • Main characteristics;
  • Benefits for the customer;
  • An element that will help the box to be easily differentiated from all the others in order to be recognizable;
  • Tone of voice to adopt (professional? informal? );
  • Graphic and color scheme to be exploited.

Step 3 – Sell the box

The third step will last from 3 to 5 minutes. Each team that designed his own box, will have to pitch his box to all the others team. The objective of this third step is the one of generating feedbacks that will be entirely exploited to improving and creating new and better boxes. If the feedback are all in contrast to each other, there will be a re-iteration of the previous phases and each team will have to improve its new box. If it happens that everyone agree on the same elements, all the teams will work on a single box that, eventually, will be the final one. To facilitate feedbacks generation, everyone will have to ask himself:

  • what drew my attention in the beginning?
  • Which element would persuade me to buy that product?
  • Which are the idea that I don’t like at all?
  • If I would have a further box, which changes would I make?
  • Are there some ideas that would be useful to maintain in the second iteration?
  • Which ideas are unclear?

As I said at the beginning, these step could be repeated in order to find the best solution in the quickest way.


“Design the Box” is one of the best tools that you can use instead of the usual, boring, and often useless, brainstorming. Having something real on which to design and apply ideas helps you in gaining a lot of advantages: helps you in understanding which are the “core values” of the project, a clear list of feature for the customers and rationalize the best ideas.

There’s only one rule that you have to keep in mind when you begin to exploit this tool: THERE IS NOT A WRONG WAY TO DESIGN YOUR BOX. You have to feel free to do whatever you like, having “value creation for the customer” as the unique constraint.

Have you ever tried to use this technique? Have you encountered difficulties? Have you found it useful? Let me know in the comments.

“Understanding people means foreseeing the future”

Marco Carniel

What do you think about the topics in this article?

Let me know by commenting in the bottom section, I would be happy to talk with you.

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