Whack Pack: The Best Brainstorming Tool for the iPad

The Whack Pack from Roger von Oech is one of the first killer apps that every creative person should have installed on their iPad. Read this review to learn why.

When I learned that Roger von Oech’s popular Whack Back brainstorming card deck was making the transition to digital form, I was excited. The iPhone version of the Whack Pack was a wonder to behold, with colorful, engaging virtual cards that flipped, just like a real one. You could even “send” a card from the deck to someone else via e-mail, inspiring your team mates and colleagues with von Oech’s simple, actionable wisdom.

The Whack Pack has since evolved into a universal app that works on both the iPhone and iPad. If you liked the Whack Pack on the diminutive smart phone, you’re going to love it on the much larger iPad. The developer did a marvelous job of making full use of the iPad’s larger screen real estate. The deck has been expanded to 84 cards, and now includes content from the author’s Expect the Unexpected book and card deck, which is focused on the ancient wisdom of Heraclitus.

Each card in the Whack Pack has two sides: The “front,” which is displayed first, shows a title that is a creative thinking strategy. Dominating the face of the card is a whimsical illustration. Tap on the “story” button or on the image and the card turns over to reveal a story that explains the strategy, plus a list of questions to help you brainstorm solutions to your current challenge. A peeled back corner gives you access to a note pad, where you can record any ideas prompted by the creative thinking “whack.”

Methods of using the Whack Pack

The Whack Pack gives you three different types of brainstorming sessions, as well as enabling you to drill down to read specific cards, if you so desire. Here are the three types of sessions supported by this well-designed ideation tool:

Give me a whack: Selecting “give me a whack” displays a card at random, ideal content just want a little inspiration.

Card of the day: This option works just as you would expect; each day, it displays a different card, encouraging you to think creatively about the challenges you’re dealing with that day. This tool is ideal for people who like to spend time each day thinking and brainstorming. At 84 cards, it should take you almost 3 months to get through it.

Workshop: When you tap on the “do a workshop” button, you are first asked to describe your challenge, or to select from a list of existing ones – such as “make a difficult decision,” “improve a business idea” or “deal with a crisis.” If you select an issue from the list, the next screen that appears gives you an opportunity to reword it to more closely match your situation. When you’re done refining your challenge, you tap the “next” button and are greeted with the opportunity to select one of three workshops: the oracle, four-suit classic and imaginative. Each one delivers random cards from a different combination of the four card suits.

Expanded features enhance usability

The larger palette of the iPad has enabled the app developer to incorporate even more features, including the ability to open a notepad within the app to jot down any ideas that the colorful, whimsical cards generate. You access this notepad in a clever way: Each card has a curled up corner, where you can see what looks like part of a yellow legal pad. If you tap on it, the peels disappears and a notepad appears in the upper right corner, while the questions posed by the current card appear to the left of it.

If you’re using your iPad horizontally, the questions, notepad and the iPad’s virtual keyboard all fit perfectly on screen, with no wasted space – nicely designed! When you’re done capturing your ideas, you simply tap on the “whack” button and the app returns to the card deck view and displays another randomly-selected one. After you have recorded all of your ideas in response to the four cards you have been “dealt,” the app displays an editable summary of all of your notes. It also contains links to return to any of the four cards that were part of your workshop, in case you want to spend any more time pondering these creative catalysts. When you’re done reviewing and embellishing your ideas, you can e-mail them.

Leverage your existing ideas with “old notes”

One unique feature is something called “old notes.” When you click this button on the notes screen, the Whack Pack displays the notes from previous brainstorming sessions with the app. How could this possibly be useful? Because your old notes may contain some ideas that are relevant to your current challenge. When you’re done viewing your old notes, you simply click on the “back” button, and the app returns you to the previous card, with its questions and your current notes. I like the way the app maintains state – in other words, it doesn’t lose its place when you view your old notes. When you’re done typing notes, you can e-mail them to yourself or others.

It would be wonderful if the Whack Pack supported several other export options, in addition to e-mail. Ideally, I’d love to be able to send my ideas to Evernote, a very popular tool for capturing ideas, web content and other information. It already connects with over 100 other applications (link to my blog post on this topic), making it the de facto standard for online personal information bases.

New: Star cards

Another new feature recently added to the Whack Pack is something called a “star card.” This card appears for about 5 seconds, and contains a brief message urging you to think more deeply about the card that will be displayed next. I then automatically flips to reveal a randomly-selected card. This is a simple but cool addition to this brainstorming app, and here’s why: I believe it’s a natural human tendency when using a tool like this to get lazy. You’re “whacking” yourself and reading the cards, but you may not really be thinking about them as creatively as you should be. The star card whacks you upside the head and reminds you to think deeply about the next creative strategy that will be revealed to you.

Conclusion

Roger von Oech and his developer have enthusiastically embraced the Brave New World of the iPad, converting his popular brainstorming card deck into a multi-dimensional portable ideation tool. This well-designed, colorful app offers a wealth of creative stimulation in a well-designed, easy to use package. Best of all, von Oech is committed to making it even better, releasing several updated and expanded versions of the Whack Pack per year.

At US$1.99, the Whack Pack is arguably the best brainstorming tool for the iPad. It consistently ranks among the top business apps sold on iTunes, which is a testament to its engaging design and intuitive functionality. Kudos to Von Oech and his developer for creating one of the first “killer apps” that every creative person should have installed on their iPad.

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