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23 free online creativity tools for remote workshops & brainstorms

by | Apr 10, 2020

The world is moving very fast and we’re all trying to adapt. We’re big fans of using online creativity tools to help wherever we can.

I’ve been looking at different ways of using apps, tools, note-taking apps etc to help make things easier for us all working remotely. And of course we have a new verb in play: To Zoom, you Zoom, I Zoom, we all Zoom. Noun: Zoomstorm.

Anyway, I was reminded of the interview I did with a leading expert in this area, Dr Sara Jones who is Senior Lecturer, Creative Interactive System Design at the Cass Business School in London who shared some of her favourite tech tools with me as part of the research for my book. (I also studied with her on the MICL, and she’s awesome).

I was reminded about how digital tools can tools could enhance creativity can be categorized (thanks to creativity researcher Todd Lubart) who suggested that computer-based in 4 different ways.  By acting as:

  1. Nannies (that help with things like project planning)
  2. Pen-pals (that make it easier to communicate your ideas)
  3. Colleagues (that help you generate ideas when you’re stuck)
  4. Coaches (providing information about potentially useful techniques that you might want to use on your project).

I’ve categorised and linked some of our favourite tools below.

“Technology is ever-changing and so the specifics of exactly what tech tools to use for creativity are also constantly changing. Who knows where developments in AI, robotics, Internet of things, big data and block chain technology will take us over the next thirty years? I’ve made some general suggestions about how to choose your tools, and given examples of where current tools can help.” Dr Sara Jones

The following includes extracts from my book from the interview with Sara.

How to choose your online creativity tool

“So first, when choosing a tech tool, always consider which parts of your creative process a digital tool or technology could help with, and which you should perhaps still leave to the humans. Computers are great at processing, storing and letting you search through huge amounts of information, but not so great, yet anyway, at empathy, emotion, and being creative without human assistance.

Digital pens, for use on whiteboards, tablets or plain old paper have come a long way in the last few years, but all still require at least some set-up, and few have the familiarity and flexibility of the non-digital equivalent in terms of immediate ease of use. Digital post-its now also come in many forms with increasingly sophisticated functionality, with some tools, like Post-it Plus, offering perhaps the best of both worlds, in which you can write down your ideas using old school pen and post-it style paper, but then capture these digitally. This enables you to share ideas with colleagues who missed the session they were generated in, reorganise them on the fly, and incorporate them into future digital project documentation.”

Tool: Nannies

These tools help you to get organised with things like: Trello, Todoist, Asana and Google Sheets. I’d put file storage and document sharing into nannies too such as DropBox, Google Drive, OneDrive, Box.

Then there are the free survey tools like SurveyMonkey which can help to gather info and feedback pre and post online workshops as well as customer insights.

Note taking apps like Evernote and Notion make this aspect easier, saveable and shareable.

Tool: Pen-pals (that make it easier to communicate your ideas)

There are several online mind mapping tools, including Coggle (https://coggle.it) Popplet (http://popplet.com) that allow you to share ideas online and perhaps after a creative session.

Online whiteboards, like Miro and Stormboard allow you to to share ideas and present:

  • Miro (Web, Mac, Windows, iOS, Android) for formal presentation of your whiteboard
  • Stormboard (Web) for creating multiple whiteboards in a single brainstorming session
  • The MURAL canvas can house multiple whiteboard areas that you can rearrange and resize as needed. On each whiteboard, you can go with the standard blank white background, or choose from a variety of templates to add pre-built grids and content boxes for some additional structure. Voting is also easy.

Tool: Digital coaches

Several digital tools are available to help you choose what other tools and techniques you want to use for your creative process, and offer guidance on how to do this. The Creative Whack Pack app, based on the work of Roger von Oech or the IDEO Method cards app, based on methods included in IDEO’s design thinking approach, both give instructions for different creative thinking techniques.

The becreative service available at http://becreative.city.ac.uk makes suggestions for what techniques to use when, as well as guidance on how to use them.

What do you get? Advice on how to use a range of creative tools and techniques, and sometimes also advice on what tools or techniques might work particularly well for you and your creative process.

Tool: Digital colleagues

Almost every week new apps and websites appear, all of which are designed to help you use some of the tried and tested creative thinking techniques and tools that you already know. Some of these just provide what you need to use the technique in digital form, for convenience –like the Brightsparks tool, available from http://brightsparks.city.ac.uk that provides everything you need to use the Hall of Fame technique. Others do some of the hard work for you. For example, the Carer tool (Maiden et al, 2013), designed to help carers of people with dementia come up with creative solutions to challenging situations in care homes, uses natural language processing and case based reasoning to find creative solutions to problems by searching a large database of examples of best practice in related areas.

How to do it: For some of these tools, such as Brightsparks, you can just download the app or visit the website. To use others, like Carer, you need more specific knowledge of the subject area they have been designed to be used in.

Search tools, like Ask Nature offer a more creative approach to searching for information online than more conventional alternatives.

Engagement tools: which can be great for online meetings and large events (when we get back to those) things like: Mentimeter and Slido (Now Go Create recently used this at a large conference and it was great).

New webinars to the rescue!

We are taking some of our most popular courses and running them as webinars, including How To Facilitate Creative Sessions Remotely – featuring online creativity tools as well as much more. Take a look here if you want to help unleash other’s creativity on your next call.

Never run a rubbish brainstorm again. Learn how to facilitate and unleash the power of collaboration in your workshops and brainstorms.