How To Lead A Design Studio Workshop

I recently facilitated a Design Studio; a type of workshop that combines divergent and convergent thinking to explore possible solutions to a design problem.

Design Studios are effective because they are quick (no more than 2hrs), collaborative and can combine the perspectives of a diverse group of stakeholders.

When time is taken to thoughtfully prepare and plan a design studio ... it’s highly likely that the activities will result in a lot of value for the team.
Kate Kaplan -

Part Zero - Preparation

Preparation, like so many things in life, is the key to the success of a Design Studio Workshop. We sought to find solutions for expanding our product range from one product to four products. But we foresaw allsorts of problems associated with that change, from content and user journeys to navigation and signposting.

I felt it best to collapse the myriad pain points and road-blocks we'd found through user journey mapping into a problem statement:

Problem Statement


We want to provide a great experience in all redemption journeys on the ABC website. All journeys should be readily accessible via in-page links and the Primary Navigation.


The ABC website was built for a single redemption product; X.
Other redemption journeys (W, Y and Z) are now available, but these are not reflected in the X journey - they are only shown in the Primary Navigation.


We will use this Design Studio Workshop to explore ideas and create a shared vision for how to better showcase redemption journeys.

The Problem Statement is a very useful document for combining all the different issues and for generalising about how things should be. We don't need to list every pain point or reference every dead-end. In this instance we just say things are sub-optimal and say that ideally all redemption journeys should be good experiences - that's it.

We pinned this up on the wall along with user journey maps, pain points, fullpage screenshots and analytics to give a flavour of what's wrong or where we could do better. As soon as contibutors arrived we invited them to review these materials and familiarise themselves with the problem.

Part One - Sketching

Once everyone has arrived, outline the overall point of the session, ensure everyone has familiarised themselves with the Problem Statement and that they understand it (be nice and re-iterate if not, or get someone else to explain it from their perspective).

Now give everyone a sheet of paper and ask them to fold it three times, creating a grid of 6 rectangles. Everyone is now ready to engage in an individual sketching exercise before group collaboration begins:

Round #1 - Give participants 5mins to draw or write down as many ideas for solving the problem as they can think of. Use Sharpies or other fat tipped markers to ensure writing and drawing cannot get too detailed.

Round #2 - On a new sheet of paper, ask everyone to expand one of those ideas or perhaps combine a few to create a more detailed solution. Again, they only have 5mins.

Round #3 - For the final 5mins, give everyone a third piece of paper and ask them to expand upon their detailed solution by re-drawing it (or rewriting it) and include the steps/pages before and after it. At the end of this round each person should have a Storyboarded Solution Design they can present to the rest of the group.

Part Two - Present & Critique

Give everyone a set amount of time to present their idea(s) from Round 3 and allow 5mins or so for the group to constructively critique it. Opinions and gut-reactions are not useful here, ensure everyone knows how to constructively critique.

It's the facilitator's job to keep this activity pleasant, productive and on-track. You may wish to use a framework to structure this discussion, such as Six Thinking Hats.

Part Three - Converge

This is where things get a little hazy, depending on the problem and the types of solution you have discussed. You must converge all of the best ideas together in some way (how vague).

In my Design Studio, most people ended up with written statements, the best of which we listed on the whiteboard - simple! In other sessions you may have to agree to collectively sketch a new design you all agree upon that combines all the best ideas you critiqued previously - that's a little harder!

If this proves difficult the facilitator might have to step in and save the day; do the drawing, direct others, guide the discussion, substitute one idea for another or even eliminate some ideas entirely.

Part Four - Prioritise

For our list of written statements, this was relatively easy. We scored each idea for it's potential Benefit (Small, Medium, Large) and the perceived Effort required (Small, Medium, Large).

For drawings and other concepts, you may wish to score each element of the design against another set of metrics. Trendy companies often use 'Newness' as a metric, inferring that new is automatically 'better'. This is not always true, but new design patterns can be more engaging and this can lead to a better experience (if only temporarily). Just make sure your metrics are relevant and the scoring is granular enough for your purposes.

How Was It For You?

I hope you find this post useful for running your own Design Studio Workshop. Let me know if you have any feedback, alternate steps or success stories using the comment form below. x


Sounds like it was an excellent session - can't believe I couldn't make it! Would love to be involved in the next one you do.

Would’ve loved to have been involved (if I wasn’t drinking cocktails in the pool at the time). Lots of good ideas from this session though. Look forward to the next one. Well done.

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