My First Design Studio with Five Engineers and a Product Manager

Rebecca Machamer
Dec 1, 2015 · 5 min read

All of us that make and work on products for a living have sat through a kickoff meeting that had a large deck full of the business goals, KPI’s, assumptions, and everything else we could possibly need to know to start the project.

While these decks are super valuable and important, they aren’t very good at getting the team engaged. We are all exposed to so much information every day and we needed something more to get the team motivated and the creative juices flowing.

Image Source: “Building the Right Thing – Define Your Product with a Kickoff & RDP Session” by Brittany Hunter

I saw this picture after reading “The secrets to successful kickoff meetings” by Jerry Cao on The Next Web and got super excited. Post-it notes, markers, and stickers everywhere grabbed my attention and I instantly wanted to start making something. I had to test out this “Design Studio” concept with the team. We were about to kick off a BIG project here at TrackMaven so this was a perfect time more than any.

Our Design Studio Itinerary

  1. Review what we’ve learned so far from customer interviews
  2. White boarding session to get warmed up
  3. Everyone was given a piece of paper with 8 boxes on it to draw as many ideas as they could in 10 minutes
  4. I split everyone up into groups and had them combine their ideas and draw a new concept
  5. We all presented and discussed all of the concepts

The goal was to leave the room at the end of the studio with as many ideas as possible.

I invited everyone on the project team and also provided snacks to spur up even more excitement. I reminded everyone a few times before the meeting that no cell phones or laptops were allowed. Everyone complied and it really helped everyone stay focused. I meant to play music too and completely forgot. I will definitely do that at the next one because it is highly recommended.

What happened

Engineers will draw their ideas

Really! I encouraged everyone to draw when giving instructions but said that if you didn’t want to that was okay you could use your words. I was pleasantly surprised that mostly everyone started drawing to get their ideas on paper. Our VP of Engineering even reached for the markers to give his sketches color to emphasize different parts.

Presenting each of our individual sketches.

So many ideas

After all the exercises were done I had a stack of concepts in my hands. Concepts I would have never been able to think of on my own. Having a bunch of super smart and talented people all in the room together can really generate some awesome and unique ideas.

I made it clear that if you have an idea say it or write it down during the exercises. No idea during a design studio is a bad idea. Establishing a comfortable environment where everyone feels safe expressing their ideas is where innovation happens. One idea sparked other ideas which turned into an awesome concept.

Everyone felt heard

There was a good energy after the design studio was over. Everyone felt as if they had contributed to the beginning stages of the project instead of only developing static mocks that were already planned out. It was a great team bonding experience and everyone walked away feeling motivated to start working on an MVP.

What I learned

Just say no to slides

While getting everyone on the same page of what our customers said during interviews is important it didn’t feel like the right time during the design studio. Everyone walked into the room, saw the snacks, paper, pens and markers and there was a feeling of excitement. Once I put a slide deck on the TV to share my findings conducting customer interviews, the excitement dwindled. I learned to share these details during the time we review the business goals not before a planned activity. This is the time to be as interactive and hands on as possible so no monitors and wordy slides.

Be lenient on the time for exercises

During the final exercise I allowed each team to collaborate for 15 minutes before we began presenting concepts. However, when the 15 minute mark hit I saw that there were still lots of great discussion happening and I decided not to interrupt. I wanted everyone’s ideas to develop just a tiny bit more and I think it helped really round out some great concepts. I allowed an extra 5 minutes on the clock and I’d say it was worth it.

Provide more markers

I really was shocked that mostly everyone drew their ideas. As I said before our VP of Engineering reached for markers, well dry erase markers. It would be really interesting to see when everyone is provided with more colors what things will come out of it.

Wade and Salar discussing their concept.

It’s now part of our process

After the success of our first design studio at TrackMaven it is definitely an essential part of our process before we start working on new major features. The team felt closer, more energized and I think that energy will lend itself towards the success of our product. Also, the ideas that came out of the meeting are things that one person can’t come up with on their own. I wish I had been doing these sooner!

Next time I plan on expanding the brains past the project group and inviting people from other departments. Imagine the ideas!

I encourage you to try these out with your team. I can’t wait to try some different exercises at the next one!

Ruff Concepts

Thoughts from the TrackMaven Design team

Thanks to Laura McGuigan

Rebecca Machamer

Written by

San Francisco newb, dog lover, craft beer taster and designer of things. Lead Product Designer at TrackMaven.

Ruff Concepts

Thoughts from the TrackMaven Design team

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade