Functional Mashup

This activity can be used in a co-design or other group design session to encourage participants to work together toward more creative and resourceful solutions, by thinking beyond the current or obvious.



You will need a deck of object cards. You can create your deck using any available materials. You might print images of different objects on paper or cardstock, use language learning flashcards, cut out magazine images and paste them onto cards, or find other ways to create a collection of random objects.

An image showing a large selection of cards spread out on the floor, each
with a different magazine image pasted on.

Figure 1: Example of a collection of object cards created by pasting random magazine images onto sheets of paper.

If desired and available you can provide additional tools and materials that can be used together with the object cards to build prototypes (e.g. scissors, glue, tape, pipe cleaners, etc.).


  1. Break into smaller groups (3 to 5 people per group is usually best)
  2. Keeping the objects on the cards hidden, each group selects the same number of cards from the main deck (this number can be decided by the larger group).
  3. Each group then chooses or is assigned one function from a collection of functions – these can be determined by the facilitator ahead of time or collectively by the group. The functions can be realistic or can be more experimental and exploratory. For example: communicating with a neighbour during a power failure, sending money to relatives overseas, taking your newborn baby to work, walking your dog in an airplane, looking after your parents remotely, etc.
  4. The challenge for each group is to combine and use all of the objects on their cards to create something that fulfills the selected function. One way to approach this might be to tell a story about how your objects come together to fulfill the function.

Tip: Brainstorm different approaches and don’t limit your ideas to what is technically possible.

Tip: If there are members in your group that require audio description, be sure to describe the object cards and the process as you move forward. Allow for tactile exploration where appropriate.

Tip: You can prototype or communicate your solution/idea/story in whatever way that works best for your group (e.g. sketching, building, describing, etc).

Tip: In addition to the object cards, you can use any available materials to prototype your idea.


The goal of this activity is to promote creative thinking over immediate feasibility. It encourages participants to dig deeper to find unexpected and creative ways of addressing a problem.