Design Thinking Toolkit, Activity 1 – The Love/Breakup Letter

Welcome to our series on Design Thinking methods and activities. You’ll find a full list of posts in this series at the end of the page.

The Love/Breakup Letter

Primary Goal To identify positive and negative attributes/elements/features in your brand, product, company, or event.
When To Use During a kick-off session with a group that is familiar with a pre-existing concept, brand, event and/or application.
Time Required 30-45 minutes
Number of Participants 2-6 (ideally)
Who Should Participate? Stakeholders, Users, or Product Teams
Supplies Pens or pencils, lined sheets of paper (bonus supply: heart or smiley/sad face stickers for dramatic effect)

The Love/Breakup Letter is based on the premise that the relationships we have with brands and applications are very similar to those we have with people. When we love and appreciate brands, we come to rely on them, become loyal to them, and look for more and more ways to include and incorporate them into our lives. We talk about them with our friends and share them with family. On the other hand, when we detest brands, we do whatever it takes to avoid them, speak out against them, and actively seek out alternatives.

Treating brands and products like people can help us better understand their context within our lives. Writing a letter is a perfect way to tap into the emotional connections we have with our products and find ways to promote their best attributes or fix the features that are broken.

Leading “The Love/Breakup Letter” Exercise

1. Set the Stage

To prepare for this exercise, you’ll want two example letters (one love letter and one breakup letter) that you can share with the participants. It’s helpful to use letters that don’t mention the project that you’re working on to avoid influencing the content of participants’ letters.

You can write your own letters or use these examples:

2. Write the Love/Breakup Letters

Distribute pens/pencils, paper, and stickers to each participant, and explain the following:

  • We have relationships with brand and apps, just like we have them with people.
  • Each of you will be writing a love or breakup letter to the brand/product. Mixed feelings can be expressed through a combo letter. Tough love and/or goodbyes infused with regret both make for great letters too. This will enable everyone to have their feelings be heard aloud.
  • Each participant will have 10 minutes to write their letter. (You, as facilitator, will also be writing a letter if you have experience with the brand or product.)

Read your example love letter and breakup letter out loud to help your audience understand the format. Then start the exercise. Feel free to stop before time is up if everyone is finished early, or add a few minutes if participants need more time.

3. Read the Letters Aloud

After time is up, ask each participant to read their letter out loud to the group. If participants are shy, it can be helpful to read your own letter first.

4. Follow-Up

After each letter has been read, collect the letters. I recommend scanning them as an artifact of project exploration. They can be great tools to reference.

Next Steps

Synthesize the information from the letters into a document that categorizing areas that need improvement or features that are working.

You can use this to create an action plan, e.g.

  • What’s working? How can it be strengthened or applied more broadly?
  • What’s not working? Can it be fixed, or do we need to completely rethink it?

That ends today’s lesson. Check back soon for new lessons, and leave me a comment below if you’ve given the Love/Breakup Letters a try.

Class dismissed!


Reference for this exercise: Universal Methods of Design by Bella Martin and Bruce Hanington (2012)

Atomic’s Design Thinking Toolkit

  • This is a great series. I enjoyed this method and I can’t wait to try it out. Thanks for posting these!

    • Kimberly Crawford Kimberly Wolting says:

      Thanks, Joshua. Let me now how the exercise goes for you. Happy writing!

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