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TGI(D)F: Bringing Design Friday to our team and how to bring it to your own

Morgan Wheaton
Jun 24 · 6 min read

In our studio, it’s not uncommon for designers to get super invested in the problems they’re trying to solve, often for months at a time. While this type of dedication is rewarding, at the end of a project it can lead to designers feeling a bit burned out and removed from their teammates working on other engagements.

At the beginning of last Fall, I got the sense that this was being felt across our entire design team. As we wrapped up a long summer filled with client work and changes happening on the team, I could tell everyone needed an opportunity to reconnect and feel inspired to make things again.

After reading about an event held by Julie Zhuo and her team in her book The Making of a Manager (where designers were encouraged to get off of their computers and create something physical), I started thinking about how we could bring a similar event to our studio.

Starting Design Fridays at thirteen23

Working with Stephanie, another designer on our team, we put together our very own hands-on, creative event that we dubbed Design Friday.

Since thirteen23 is a studio made up of designers, developers, and directors, we wanted to make sure we were planning an event everyone could get something out of. To do this, we kept four goals in mind as we put together our first Design Friday:

  • Foster collaboration
    Bring everyone together in a low-stress, hands-on way.
  • Educate
    Teach other team members about different design fundamentals to encourage a shared design vocabulary in the studio.
  • Build empathy
    Give everyone a sense of what it’s like to be a designer by having them respond to a creative prompt and share their work with others.
  • Encourage creativity
    Create an outlet for creative thinking that builds excitement for the creative practice in the studio.

Bringing Design Friday to your own team

Our first Design Friday on typography ended up being such a success that we decided to make them a monthly affair. As we head into our fifth Design Friday, we wanted to offer some steps to bring this practice to your own team.

1. Start with an open, low-stress environment

For designers on your team, the prospect of taking a break from screens to just create and use their hands sounds like a dream. But it’s important to consider how non-designers might feel put on the spot to create freely in front of…well…professional creatives. To set the tone as a collaborative, judgement-free zone, find a space for your event where all participants feel equal. Instead of a meeting room, try taking your event outside or to a shared break space. Our studio has had success with everyone sitting around a large table in the back of the studio, cracking open a cold beverage, playing some tunes, and chatting for a bit before we get started.

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Lettering together

2. Level the playing field with some brief education

For each Design Friday, we center the event around a different design fundamental to help grow the design knowledge in the studio. We typically start with the basics of the fundamental we’re covering — for example, in our event on colors, we discussed the difference between hue, saturation, and value. Then, we name-drop a few notable artists or designers and discuss their contribution to our topic’s history.

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Describing our color activity

3. Start your activity

After you’ve spent about 10 minutes on educational material, everyone will be ready to get to business!

For the activity, pick something that relates to the theme, but is simple enough to be explained in a few steps (as you want to spend the bulk of the time actually working). At our studio, we’ve done everything from tracing and drawing monograms for our typography event, to creating cut paper visualizations to demonstrate color theory.

While some participants may be excited to just create, break all the rules, and come up with something you’d never expect, some will enjoy figuring out the method and logic behind the concept. The beauty of Design Fridays is that both of these outcomes are equally valid!

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Tracing letters to create our own monograms

4. Vibe-check your team throughout

If your team is working and chatting, having fun with their hands, and focusing on their craft, great! You’ve done well. However, it’s always best to be prepared for the awkward silence, the confused participant, or a lack of energy. As a facilitator, it’s up to you to set the tone and make sure participants feel comfortable and supported.

We like to play music (hello, Harry Styles) as we work to keep the awkward silences at bay, and the primary facilitator takes a walk around the table about halfway through to check in on everyone. If someone is struggling, try offering some ideas, asking questions about their approach, or explaining how you’re thinking about the activity. We’ve found that showing some examples of possible outcomes helps people who might be blocked.

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Cutting paper during our Valentine’s Day themed Design Friday on patterns

5. Do what you can, where you are, with what you have

It’s important to ensure these events are sustainable and don’t become a burden alongside our work schedules. Don’t stress over making each presentation, activity, or outcome perfect — at the end of the day, if the team was able to gather, talk about design, and create, you achieved your goal. We really took this to heart in the midst of COVID-19 — we even managed to host a remote event using Figma! Though it was a much leaner and abbreviated version of our real-life events, our team enjoyed it just the same.

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All of us getting together virtually in April

How it’s been received

All in all, Design Fridays have been a great way for our studio to get together, connect, and learn more about design. It’s also been nice to have dedicated time away from our computers (well, at least when we aren’t all working remotely) to create things that are just for fun.

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Morgan & Stephanie

Morgan Wheaton is an Associate Creative Director at thirteen23. Passionate about leading teams and building engaging user experiences, she has led strategy, design, and UX on a number of consumer projects, including digital experiences for Experian, Bose, HP, and Kohler. Outside of work, you can find her weighing her hiking gear and planning her next backpacking trip.

Stephanie Embry is a designer at thirteen23. She has worked on research and UX engagements for Visa, Experian, HP, and DFW Airport. When not in the studio, she can be found crafting spreadsheets, reading ghost stories, sorting her belongings by color, or planning her next trip abroad.

The Garage

Thoughts and experiments from the team at thirteen23, a…

Thanks to thirteen23, Morgan Gerber, Madisson Staires, and Lani DeGuire

Morgan Wheaton

Written by

Making things for the internet @thirteen23.

The Garage

Thoughts and experiments from the team at thirteen23, a digital product studio in Austin, Texas.

Morgan Wheaton

Written by

Making things for the internet @thirteen23.

The Garage

Thoughts and experiments from the team at thirteen23, a digital product studio in Austin, Texas.

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