Invention Dice

inventiondicethumb.jpgEven the most creative people get stuck for ideas once in a while - here's a way of generating brand new ideas - Invention Dice - a method for making the Muse less fickle.

It's a set of six dice - each one has a theme; the themes are:

  • Materials
  • Motive Power
  • Scale
  • Device
  • Consumer
  • Action


Rolling the dice generates one of 46,656 different unique combinations - which the inventor can then use as inspiration for a brainstorming session.

Some of the combinations are nonsensical, but this itself can be provocative - and the ideas that flow from your imagination in this process don't necessarily have to fit all or any of the original criteria - it's just meant to spark the imagination.

Making The Dice

inventiondice2.jpgI made my Invention Dice from a piece of scrap hardwood - in this case, False Acacia, which is a nice heavy, hard wood that can be sanded to a smooth finish. Beech, maple cherry, apple or other fine-grained hardwoods would also work.

I planed the piece until it was square (about 2cm) in section (as the piece was originally a thick dowel, there was a slight rounded chamfer on each edge, but this didn't matter, as I would be sanding chamfers on all edges of the dice anyway).

inventiondice3.jpgI clamped a stop to my mitre jig and cut six identical cubes.


cut a slice off the end first to make sure it's cut square - then lay this slice down and use it to measure and accurately position the clamped stop - that way, you'll cut perfect cubes)

inventiondice4.jpgI sanded each face of each cube, then sanded a small chamfer on each edge - this makes the dice more comfortable to use - and helps them to roll a little more.

It's a lot of sanding - 36 faces, 72 edges and 48 corners, but it's worth taking the time to do it properly.

inventiondice6.jpgUsing Inkscape (an open source vector graphics program) I designed a set of icons for the faces of the dice - my original plan was to print these in mirror image on T Shirt transfer material, then iron them onto the faces of the dice - but that didn't work (they didn't adhere well to the smooth wood - and there was a tendency to scorch the timber)

So I drew them by hand onto each face - using a CD marker pen - then painted them (where appropriate) with acrylic paints, then touched up the outlinee again with the CD pen.

inventiondice7.jpgI wrote the labels underneath with a fine graphic pen.

It's worth testing all of these media on a scrap piece of wood, as some inks will tend to bleed into the grain - and some woods are more absorbent than others.

inventiondice8.jpgI knitted a small string bag with a drawstring - using my 14-peg French knitting loom - but it would have been just as easy to sew a small pouch out of scraps of fabric.

inventiondice9.jpgThe six dice pack nicely inside the string bag and it fits comfortably in the pocket .

Playing The Game

Just roll the dice, then try to assemble them into a coherent statement - then think about how you would make that thing - for example (as pictured):

inventiondice11.jpgGiant Random Industrial Metal Clockwork Robot

This could be an idea for a story - or maybe just elements of this combination are provocative - how can we use randomness industrially? - How would you make a random device based on clockwork mechanism? Is it possible to make clockwork toy robots from industrial scrap metal? etc...

inventiondice12.jpgWearable Organic Wind Stealth Home Vehicle

Hmmm... tricky, but maybe it could provoke thoughts on sustainable laundry drying methods for camper vans used by crack commandos.

OK, work with me... the point is, this starts you thinking in new directions - what about a foldable fabric wind turbine for charging a camping lantern?

inventiondice13.jpgManual Random Pocket Wood Personal Game

I'm picturing something made from wooden cubes... Any ideas?

If You Want To Make Your Own

If you can't find suitable timber, or can't be bothered with all that cutting and sanding, it's possible to buy blank dice or wooden cubes from craft stores.

The Icons

The icons comprise:

  • Materials: Metal, Wood, Plastic, Edible, Paper, Organic
  • Motive Power: Manual, Electric, Clockwork, Solar, Wind, Water
  • Scale: Giant, Mini, Pocket, Portable, Wearable, Inhabitable
  • Device: Robot, Vehicle, Computer, Game, Tool, Art
  • Consumer: Family, Personal, Office, Home, Industrial, Public
  • Action: Flying, Random, Self-Build, Underwater, Stealth, Disposable


A high-quality PNG version of this icon set is here - it can be printed on self-adhesive paper and attached to premade blank dice.

Obviously, these aren't the only possible categories of icons for a set like this, and other possibilities exist within each category.

Play Invention Dice Online!

If you can't wait to make your own Invention Dice (or if you just can't be bothered), you can still play the online version here: