Best Practices for Leading All-Remote Research Sessions, Synthesis Workshops, and Design Sprints

An empty classroom | Photo by Jeffrey Hamilton

I am a strong believer in embodied cognition, the psychological theory that our minds consist not only of the mental faculty in our skulls, but also in the physical states and movement of our whole persons. And, if you can believe it, in the environment and objects we manipulate with our bodies when thinking things through.

Talk with any grade-school teacher and they will emphasize the importance of manipulatives. “Tablets and apps are great,” a teacher told me last year in an interview regarding a K-6 learning app, “but I intentionally limit the time my students use those tools. …

Two researchers consult with each other. The table & walls around them are covered with sticky notes.
Two researchers consult with each other. The table & walls around them are covered with sticky notes.
photo by Jeff Blanchard

At Highland, we’ve written a lot about Jobs to be Done (JTBD).

The JTBD framework is a fundamental part of our CX and design practices, and it shapes our approach to researching, designing and building products and services that fit the needs people have.

Here’s a quick summary of what JTBD is about:

Jobs to be Done is a framework for understanding the progress people are trying to make in their lives, and the inhibitors and motivators of making that progress.

In its greatest form, JTBD is about understanding the higher self people would like to become.

They might want to become a more effective teacher in a diverse…

Southern lights & Earth with the International Space Station in the foreground, antenna & arm of the station protruding.
Southern lights & Earth with the International Space Station in the foreground, antenna & arm of the station protruding.
Photo by NASA

A digital experience strategy can help enterprises and institutions effectively leverage technology at scale. When executed well, these strategies describe how to create impactful products and services that are orchestrated to work together — now and in the foreseeable future.

(A “digital experience strategy” in this context is neither a marketing nor a business strategy. It’s a strategic approach to creating a better customer/constituent experience by refining and developing many digital products and services, used in concert across the corporate ecosystem.)

Having partnered with Highland’s clients on a few digital experience strategies recently, here are 10 things I’ve learned that…

The Product as a Viable Entity — Part 2 of 3

Photo by Annie Spratt

In the previous article, we looked at several ways maps can take shape, offer us perspectives and insights, and be applied to a variety of contexts. In design thinking for products, we can leverage a number of different maps and canvases to help us identify and collaborate on the value we want to create and deliver to customers.

Before we look in more detail at all of those maps — how they connect to the product and each other — let’s first take a closer look at the concept of what our product is.

A Product has Many Mapping Needs

(Nota bene: I’m going to use…

Mapping Context & Complexity — Part 1 of 3

Map of Kings Island theme park, c. 1988

I have a thing for maps. When I was a child, my family went most summers to Kings Island, a theme park outside of Cincinnati, Ohio. With all of the rides and sights, it was a very fun place to be and spend the day together. Almost as exciting as the park itself, though, was getting my hands on that map after we got our tickets.

The map was actually not very helpful for an adult leading the pack. …

How Designing for Accessibility Can Generate Innovations in User Experience

Photo by Simson Petrol on Unsplash

A few months ago, I was running late to work and needed to call into an early standup while en route — from my motorcycle. My helmet has bluetooth and allows me to make calls, but my ability to interact with the team was limited because I wasn’t able to use my hands. Though the GoToMeeting app is designed well enough, I had to ask our PM Jim ahead of time to mute and unmute me throughout the meeting. If I had something I wanted to pipe up and say, I couldn’t do it on my own; I had to…

I’m about to take a belated vacation next week, having worked through the summer and believing in that Chicagoan fashion that it would never end. Now the leaves are turning and I hear the call of the American Southwest, the openness there.

Airbnb is actively becoming more accessible as it scales, but is it still true to its original value prop of a more personal stay?

Photo by Djim Loic (

I became an Airbnb host in March, 2011, when I received my Daily Good email and it contained a compelling bit about a quickly growing service for connecting travelers with host homes in the cities they were visiting.

I was several years into restoring my 135-year-old Victorian house in Old Louisville, KY, which I bought the building from the grandson of the original owner. The building was much too large for myself and my partner, so we decided to list the house and open up some of the rooms.

Card-based “wireframing” allows everyone to work around the table and discuss content emphasis and presentation

Engaging Clients Early via Collaborative Prototyping

Once we have recognized an opportunity, and potential solutions, it’s time to validate the ideas and their potential impact. It is very helpful, if not necessary, to bring clients into the process so that they can contribute their ideas early, understand that it’s ok to be wrong initially, and see rapid results from the outset.

How do we:

a) Engage stakeholders early,
b) help them adopt an experimental mindset, and
c) bootstrap a concept into something resembling a first deliverable?

Through collaborative prototyping, we include clients at the very start of the design conversation, and also ease them into the idea that not…

Flying Strawberries by Neko-Chan. Over-engineered juicing device by Juicero.

You may have heard by now that not all juicers are made equal. Some, it seems, are over-engineered after $120M in funding has to find a development target. The problem isn’t merely about being unable to turn a big ship with a small rudder (ie, Big Design Up Front), but whether product validation at various stages is enough to turn the wheel to begin with.

When product goals outweigh the necessary constraints on vision, the resulting oversight can create a tumorous condition.

I’m certain that prototyping and consumer testing were part of the two-year lifecycle of this product. I do…

Jeff Blanchard

Cultivator of design, social equality, & motorbike journeys. Exploring ways to create better human experiences. Design Director @ Highland Solutions

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