“Everyone can think. Everyone can draw.”
Those are the core beliefs behind the Design Studio Methodology. I am happy to report that they are spot on. Over the last several months, Mutual Mobile has leaned on Design Studios to solve all sorts of problems for our clients; everything from UX improvements to new product ideation and everything in between. However, the biggest problem the Design Studio Methodology has solved at Mutual Mobile is underutilized talent.
Before we discovered the power of Design Studios, we would gather a team of developers and designers in a room and wait for a solution to emerge. It served us well for our first five years as a company, but then we took the “everyone can think, everyone can draw” approach, and the walls of our office were literally covered in doodles and ideas. Our collective creative output quadrupled, clients were blown away, and the vibe around the workplace was happier than Disney World.
I’m interested. Tell me more.
There are three main reasons why a company may want to adopt the Design Studio Methodology:
1) Leveling the Playing Field
With time and supply constraints (i.e. pen and paper), participants are forced to use low fidelity ways to convey ideas. No one will be at an advantage or disadvantage based on their computer prowess.
Because technical ability is thrown out the window, more people within your organization can participate and prosper. Design Studio brings together a group of diverse talent, expertise and points of view to generate many ideas around a problem or project. The more, the merrier.
3) So … Many … IDEAS
What really makes Design Studios worth the time and personnel investment is the quantity and quality of ideas that come out of it. One two-hour session we held generated around 130 valid concepts, and thanks to the Design Studio Methodology, we were able to quickly sift through all the great thinking and find the strongest solutions. At the end of the day, you can rest assured that the surviving concepts are battle tested and ready to push forward.
I’m sold! Now, how do I get started?
Prepping the studio
First thing’s first, you have to recruit the people. The key is gathering participants from every discipline and distinction within your organization. You may also want to get some people from the client side involved, depending on how close they are to the project. If a client is hands off and caught up in a bunch of other stuff, it might be best to just present the results once the Design Studio is complete.
The second thing to take into account is numbers. We’ve successfully ran Design Studios with as few as nine employees (three teams of three) to as many as thirty, taking anywhere from an hour to a few. The question you’ve got to ask yourself is how much time do you have to spare. The greater the number of participants, the greater the time investments.
Sparking the creativity
Once you’ve corralled your recruits into the “studio” space, get their creative juices flowing with a quick warm-up assignment. For example, hand everyone a Post-It Note and tell them they have a minute to draw a shoe that represents them as a person. You may get some confused faces at first, but by the time that timer goes off, everyone will be better acquainted and ready to do more thinking.
Let the designing commence
Now that all the participants are in the right state of mind, it’s time to get things underway. Start by presenting the problem you’re trying to solve. Be sure to give plenty of background, like who you are targeting with this solution and any other limitations participants should keep in mind while doodling.
Next, hand everyone a copy of the brief and an eight-up (a piece of paper with eight boxes for drawing), set a timer for five-ish minutes, and have everyone fill their eight-up with visual solutions to the problem. A few words for clarity are fine, but remember, “everyone can draw.”
From there, you begin a cycle of sketching, presenting, receiving feedback, and polishing your best thoughts. You do this twice, resulting in the melding of all the sharpest ideas from your group into one super-awesome concept.
Once the individual groups have a concept, you do a similar cycle between all the groups in your Design Studio—present the idea, receive the feedback, adjust your idea accordingly. You do this twice, ending in a final presentation where each group pitches their polished concept to the room. No more feedback. No blue ribbons. Just a collection of great ways to solve your client’s problem.
Design Studios take a lot out of the participants. After all that brainstorming and drawing, the last thing they’re going to want to do is go back to work. That’s why we usually schedule our Design Studios towards the end of the day, concluding with a happy hour or pizza party. It’s the perfect way to reward your employees for all their hard work, while you prepare to be praised at the client presentation.