How to conduct a successful design studio

Before I get into how we at Nasdaq Design conduct design studios, I think it’s important to first define what a design studio is:

A design studio is a limited amount of time set aside for a collaboration of designers & product owners to tackle a singular design.

The goal is not really to have the problem solved necessarily at the end of the meeting, but to have a better understanding of the problem itself.

It is time set aside to gather ideas from your associates that you wouldn’t otherwise get by working in a silo.

Don’t just invite designers.

Believe it or not but we as designers are almost innately biased when it comes to problem solving.

We are subconsciously influenced by dribbble shots, medium posts (hah), and a myriad of other design related blogs and portfolio sites that are heavily opinionated on all sorts of ways of doing things—and it almost becomes a phantom limb for our own design thinking.

It’s important to invite people like project managers and product owners as well. Not only do they have extensive knowledge of the inner workings of the product you’re trying to solve a problem for, but they don’t share the same design bias we often do.

If you give a product owner pen and paper, you’d be surprised what they will come up with.

Time management

When it comes to a design studio, it is imperative that you keep each round of sketches short—five to ten minutes max. The reason being is so that we are forced to come up with the first solution that comes to mind, and not be distracted by what are brain wants to perfect when it comes to high fidelity designs.

It doesn’t matter if it looks like a child drew it. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t get your complete thought drawn out on paper. It doesn’t matter how many pieces of paper you used. What matters is that you’ve rendered the idea out of your head and is sharable among the group.

It’s kind of like that weird thing when you’re doing a test, and for some reason the first answer you thought of just so happened to be the right one. It’s that idea—your knee jerk reaction. That’s what you want out of your group.

Strict moderation

Our design studios at Nasdaq rarely go past the two hour mark. We try to cram as much creative information out of the group in the shortest amount of time possible. This is for a couple reasons:

  • After two hours of brainstorming, people tend to get fatigued, and lose the motivation to come up with thought provoking solutions.
  • Since a design studio will only last about an hour, you want to keep back-and-forth critique short, or even continue the conversation after the meeting.
  • You want to keep everyone engaged. Keep the conversation going. If you’re hosting the design studio, encourage everyone to speak up—but remind them of remaining time left of the meeting.

Deliverables

When you set up your design studio, be very clear in the meeting invitation that you encourage everyone to bring pen and paper to render their ideas from.

This is very important. Technically there are a plethora of programs out their that allow you to create wireframes, but you don’t want wireframes out of a design studio—you want creative ideas.

There is literally no limit to pen and paper ideas other than the power of imagination.

We usually do two rounds of sketches. The first round we keep to about ten minutes and ask everyone in the group to all sketch at once what they think is the answer to the problem.

After ten minutes is up, you should moderate ten to fifteen minutes of everyone one-by-one sharing their sketch to the group. Let people ask questions about the designs being shared, but speak up if the conversation starts to veer away from the original problem that the design studio was derived from.

You do another round of sketches, but this time allow everyone to take the ideas they liked that was shared with the group, and render new sketches based upon what they’ve learned. At the end of the second round of sharing, you will have compiled a vast array of ideas from your teammates!

Design studios are great for amassing a wide variety of ideas, and the best resource a designer should utilize is their team.

Where before, you may have hit a mental roadblock or were unsure how to approach a design problem, you now have an arsenal of ideas from just an hour long meeting.

Make sure to continue the conversation after the meeting using a platform like Slack or Notable that would allow the group to comment on the different sketches from the design studio session.

❤ ~ C