Running a 26 Person Design Studio

 

Design studios are an ideal method for bringing people together from multiple departments to deep-dive into a problem space.

Simplified: design studios encourage rapid exploration and ideation, and when run correctly work wonders in team alignment. Ideally each major department-- marketing, design, copywriting, tech, strategy, sales, etc.-- has a representative sharing pain-points, expertise, and ideas at the table.

Once the room’s shared their knowledge, ideation begins by individual sketching. Sketches are then shared across the room, and through a series of voting and iteration the group ends up with a single, sketched design to move forward with.

Although these sketches don’t always translate into the final interface (sometimes they might), what they show is a unified direction. As part of the project’s Product Design team, we then translate that unified direction into prototypes.

Replicating that process with 26 people, on the other hand, was a bit challenging. The design studio was run for a global marketing production and implementation provider whose services spanned across digital, print, and broadcast media channels. Part of New York’s Omnicorm Group, our client eg+ worldwide was revamping their Digital Asset Management system (DAM) into a more digital-first product (rather than the print-first legacy).

 
 

With representatives from every needed department, our project’s development team (joining us from Poland), key stakeholders, and few designers, we started the day-long workshop.

The exercise began with a bit of research, presented from the facilitator (me) and designed to spark conversation between the departments. Interesting notes were captured on our whiteboard for the sketching phase.

We split our group into five teams, each team was assigned a persona (that were covered earlier in the session), and asked to proceed through the workshop as their persona (which were representative of the types of users we anticipated using our DAM).

One hurdle when running a design studio: people’s unwillingness to sketch. As adults, we build a mental barrier to drawing. “It’s something children do, and we’re here to work.” is favourite quote among tough participants. So the challenge becomes not only justifying the effectiveness of sketching, but also convincing the group they’re capable. When running a design studio, I always factor include a 10 minute sketching warm-up.

How the rest of the design studio was planned:

Round One (within groups)

  • Five minutes of sketching multiple solutions (individual)

  • Three minutes (per person) to individually pitch ideas to the group

  • Two minutes after each pitch for comments and voting

Round Two (within groups)

  • Five minutes of individuals sketching a single solution (stealing ideas from the group, and refining personal ideas)

  • Three minutes (per person) to individually pitch ideas to the group

  • Two minutes after each pitch for comments and voting

Round Three (to all groups)

  • Fifteen minutes of group sketching a single solution (using ideas from the previous round)

  • Five minutes for each group to present solutions through the eyes of their personas

  • Five minutes for each individual to vote on specific ideas or features across every group’s design

The session provided amazing results, and we (the Product Design team) left with:

  1. Multiple directions (tailored to our personas) of solving our problem

  2. Buy-in from all major departments

  3. A heatmap of crucial features

 
 

 

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