the book
the book
the author
Lessons in Play,
and Design
A Keyhole SVG
Download game sheets

The Rules We Break is a design book that asks you to play. It is not a book of information to learn or facts to absorb. It is a handbook for doing.

pages 32 and 33 of the book

The thought-provoking essays and hands-on exercises in The Rules We Break introduce new approaches to creative collaboration, group brainstorming, problem solving, design iteration, understanding systems, and communicating ideas — strategies that are useful across any discipline or situation.
Redesign the rules of Tic-Tac-Toe; compose an interactive story on a deck of blank cards; conceive, design, and playtest original projects; and more. No computers required.


PLAY is about the messy, wild, creative improvisation of playing. More than just goofing around, play is a profound way of understanding how we relate to each other, how meaning is made, and how to critically engage with the world.

Exercises in Play are games that usually take half an hour or less to play and discuss. Many of them are physical, playground-style activities curated from traditional folk culture and contemporary designers. They are great for warming up bodies and brains while also highlighting fundamental questions about people and design.

an extract of the PLAY section of the book

SYSTEMS takes a close look at how the parts of a complex structure interrelate to form a whole. Systems thinking is a crucial kind of literacy, and games get right to the heart of interactive systems.

Exercises in Systems are mostly tabletop activities that take a couple of hours to work through. By analyzing, modifying, and tinkering with dynamic systems, these exercises train critical design skills that are widely applicable to just about any kind of complex project.

an extract of the SYSTEMS section of the book

DESIGN uses games as the occasion to practice inventing new ideas and projects. The emphasis is on rapid prototyping and iteration through playtesting—exploring ideas by actually making things and seeing how they work when you start to play with them.

Exercises in Design are longer projects that can stretch over days or weeks. They cover idea generation, working through a rigorous and playful process, and communicating to an audience. They are relevant to all kinds of creative endeavors.

an extract of the DESIGN section of the book

“This marvelous book - years in the making - is a treasure trove of design thinking, inspiring reflections, and practical exercises. The Rules we Break belongs on the shelf of every designer and educator.”

Richard LeMarchand, lead game designer on Uncharted and faculty at USC Games

“Like yoga for the brain, Zimmerman's The Rules We Break embraces play as a serious way to learn. The Rules we Break is a handbook for the 21st century, where play just happens to be a serious way to learn about—and change—the systems that impact our lives.”

Colleen Macklin, award-winning game designer and faculty at Parsons School of Design

Published by Princeton Architectural Press.