Design Games — Freelisting

Design Games — Freelisting

Freelisting—Design Games

“Freelisting” is the fifth in our series of Design Games.

In freelisting, participants name as many of ‘x’ as they can for a particular topic. This game is good for understanding what users know, how they use terminology and to generate lists.

Freelisting is the fifth in our series of Design Games.

Is this your first time visiting our design games series? A design game is basically a fun activity played by a small team and used to provide input to a design problem. They may involve users of a product, a project team, stakeholders, or even management.

For a more detailed description of what a design game is, check out our first design game post. Or have a look at our other design games, Design the Homepage, Scavenger Hunt, Divide the Dollar and Card Sorting.

Description of Freelisting

Design Games—FreelistingIn Freelisting, for a particular topic, participants have to name as many of ‘x’ as they can. This game is very good for understanding what users know, how they use terminology and to generate lists.

Freelisting is a fairly common brainstorming method. You can make it more game-like by introducing competition between teams, a tight deadline and prizes for the most items.

You can ask participants to work on this individually, or make it a whole-group activity:

  • When people are working by themselves, each will make a shortish list, but the combined lists will provide a large number of items overall.
  • When working as a group, there is a lot of group energy & generation of names. Watch that the activity doesn’t start to go down one path (suggested by a particular term) and ignore other possibilities.


You’ll need:

  • A topic to be the focus of the freelist.


Ask participants to name as many ‘topic’ as they can. Tell them what the time limit is and let them go.

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If you are running it as a whole group activity, write the results up (on a whiteboard or similar) as you go. You may want to have a helper to write – ideas usually flow faster than your pen!

As this can be a very high-energy activity, you might like to audio-record it so you can come back later and make sure you haven’t missed anything.

If you are running it as an individual activity, you may choose to go around the group and ask them to read out one item from their list. Continue until there are no new terms to read out.


How much analysis you do depends on what you need to get out of the activity:

  • The simplest analysis is to create a combined list of terms
  • If run as an individual activity, tally up how many times a particular term is used
  • Analyse sequential terms – freelisting is associative, and terms listed one after each other will usually have some relationship to each other.

Spend some time thinking about why particular items are included. It may be that they are very common in the world or  represent recent experiences.

Written by
Donna Spencer
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