How to Run a Design Studio Remotely
In my earlier article “Remote (Work) Possibilities, 3 Core Principles”, I briefly covered how Design Studios, or if you prefer Design Sprints, are a great way to create empathy for the customer, stakeholders involved and your close collaborators.
In this article I'll cover, in step-by-step detail, how to prepare, run and synthesize the results of your design studio leading you to a measurable MVP that can be shared with customers for validation.
What is a Design Studio?
A Design Studio helps us visually articulate how our product features and ideas will look and behave.
It's a collaborative sketching exercise (not drawing!), made for cross-functional teams, which:
Builds on our broad hypotheses
Uncovers solutions to our hypotheses
Identifies our first MVP target test
1. Design Studio Pre-Workshop Checklist
Before you start there’s a few house cleaning items to get sorted.
Hi-Tech: This workshop will be held remotely and requires the following hardware/software to work. If you are unable to complete this checklist for any reason please contact me ASAP to see what we can do for you.
Webcam (laptop or desktop preferred)
Bonus! Large monitor or two
Zoom (Free video conference app)
Download, Install, and run the setup test
MURAL (virtual whiteboard app)
Login and setup profile
WATCH: How to add content (2m video)
Add a GIF over your profile image
Lo-Tech: We’ll be putting our mobile devices away and getting our hands on some primitive tools during this session. Prepare yourself for some separation anxiety.
Printer Paper, the white stuff, 8.5x11 is good.
Print several copies of this template
Black felt-tip pen (This one’s good)
Block out your work calendar for 2.5 hours the day of the session
Turn on “Do Not Disturb” for Slack
Resources: If time allows, please look over these materials ahead of our upcoming session to refresh yourself with the content.
Proto-Personas (See more information on what these are and how to create them)
2. Review Validation Board Summary
This contains your assumptions, problem statement and hypotheses.
Problem Statement: This is informed by your insights driven research and structured in the following way;
We have observed that [product/service/organization] isn’t meeting [these goals/needs], which is causing [this adverse effect]. How might we improve so that our product/service/team/organization is more successful based on [these measurable criteria]?
Hypotheses: Your hypotheses is prioritized by what’s the most important (ROI for your business) and or riskiest one (Could detrimentally affect your business if not resolved quickly and or executed properly.)
- We believe that (doing/building/creating this)
- For this proto-persona
- Will result in (this outcome)
- We’ll know we’re right when we see (this signal / metric)
3. Set Guidelines
Define clear roles and responsibilities: Within your group your going to have a facilitator, scribe, and general team contributors. Typically your facilitator is the lead designer and or head researcher. You scribe is generally a volunteer from the team.
Facilitator: Responsible for guiding the team through each step in the workshop and answering questions about the process.
Team: A cross-functional team comprised of, at minimum, representatives from the 3 legs of the stool and key areas of the business.
Scribe: Assists the Facilitator with gathering input from the team during our session and capturing/posting key notes.
Keep in mind a scribe will have to do two jobs, contribute and chronicle, so make sure he or she is aware of this.
Rules: Members of the design studio are ready to begin, but before they do they’re required to follow a few rules both for their and the team’s benefit.
Mute Distractions Avoid devices, Slack, email, etc.
Cameras On This should feel like we’re all in the same room
Have Fun Y’all are aiming at the same goal—not perfection
Step 1: Ideation (Working alone together)
The first thing you’ll need to do is go back to our business problem statement, broad hypotheses, personas, reference materials, old ideas, etc., and begin to brainstorm a list of ideas/concepts/drivers that will fuel solution sketches. Give everyone 10 minutes to review these materials and take notes on the MURAL board.
Gather the building blocks for your solution sketches.
Reference existing research and project materials
Take notes on things that stand out to you
Notes can take the form of words, drawings, or found imagery
These notes will help inform your solution sketches (coming up next)
Step 1b: Ideation examples
Ideas can take the form of just about anything, including words, drawings, or found imagery.
Words Keywords, quotes, phrases, notes
Drawings Doodles, diagram/workflow sketch, symbols
Pictures Found image references such as photos or screenshots
Step 1c: Start Ideating!
Instruct your team to go to the MURAL board and start adding their ideas. Set the timer for 10 minutes, giving them a 1 minute warning as time winds down.
Summary: At this point you will have gathered a list of ideas in various forms that will directly inform the next step “Solution Sketching”
Step 2: Solution Sketching (1 of 2)
Before we get started this is a good time to ease everyone’s fears. The fear of “I can’t draw.” Here’s the thing, any interface that exists today can be drawn with three simple shapes: A square, circle, and triangle. Ground your team in this idea.
Step 2A: Solution Sketching (1 of 2) — Prep Sketching
Now that everyone has their ideas flowing, they’re going to convert those ideas into solutions using an exercise called “6-Up’s”. Everyone should pull out their printed 6-Up template and arm themselves with a black felt-tip pen. You will give them 1 minute per block to quickly sketch a product concept that solves for the first hypotheses you’ve chosen and or prioritized.
Start with a “6-Up”
Focus on a single hypotheses
Must be solving for at least one user persona or proto-persona
Solution could be in the form of a UI/Workflow/Messaging, but should be product focused
Works best when you sketch several variations of the same idea
Quantity over quality
Step 2B: Solution Sketching (1 of 2) — Start Sketching!
Now that the team has gone through the prep work and understands the necessary output you’ll want to instruct them to get started. Using the printed 6-Up template and their black felt-tip pen, the team is going to set the timer for a total of 6 minutes, one minute per box.
Step 2C: Solution Sketching (1 of 2) — Gather Sketches
For the next five minutes you’re going to go around and grab screenshots of everyone’s 6-Up sketches and post them to the MURAL board before you move on. Once their sketches have been handed off feel free to take a 2 minute break and meet us back here for the next exercise.
Step 2D: Discuss Sketches
Using MURAL, you’re now going to start from the top and each person in the room is going to take just a few minutes to walk the rest of the team through their sketches.
PRESENTER: Explain how each solution helps solve your persona’s problem
This is not a pitch! The goal is not to sell your concepts. Just have them explain their thinking so the rest of the team can understand and take notes
TEAM: Help clarify what you don’t understand by asking “How does this help solve Persona X’s problem?”
Option 1, Step 2E: Critique Sketches
Time-box each person to 3 minutes max. Your Scribe will be taking notes as each person is presenting their sketches and we’ll be adding these to the board as “highlights” to review before our next step.
Option 2, Step 2E: Vote Anonymously on Sketches
Now that you have all of the solution sketches on the board, you’ll take 10 minutes together (but alone) to review each other's sketches and place small dots (dot voting), using the anonymous MURAL voting feature, on the areas of the sketch that you like, find interesting or are more curious about. This is a silent exercise. You’ll talk about the sketches next.
Break (10 minutes)
Allow the Scribe to continue posting notes to the MURAL board while the team takes a short break.
Step 3: Synthesize Feedback — Prep
Before we jump into our next (and final) round of sketching, let’s take a few minutes to review what we’ve heard so far from our critiques and or vote tallies. We’ll be using this feedback and or votes to inform our next sketch.
Pick one of your six ideas to refine/expand (the one you think has the most merit)
Focus on one hypotheses you previously worked on, for at least one persona
Consider the specific feedback on your sketches
Include anything from the “Highlights” column (from all sketches) that makes sense for your sketch
Step 3A: Synthesize Feedback — Start Synthesizing!
Everyone goes to the MURAL board to review the notes the Scribe has posted. The team can take their own personal notes to gather their “plan” for the next round of sketching. This should take no more than 5 minutes.
Step 4: Solution Sketching (2 of 2) — Prep Sketching
Taking everything you’ve done up to this point, each team member is going to spend a total of 10 minutes sketching one singular solution. This sketch will be more detailed and build upon what they’ve already started. This is not the time to introduce new ideas.
Pick one of your six ideas to refine/expand (the one you think has the most merit)
You’re still focusing on the same hypotheses statement from your previous sketches
Sketches should be presented in a storyboard format (3-6 panels)
Sketches should be self-explanatory!
Words matter. Use real brand/marketing copy instead of squiggly lines and jibber jabber
Step 4A: Solution Sketching (2 of 2) — Start Sketching!
Using another blank 6-Up template and your black felt-tip pen, start sketching your refined solution sketch in a storyboard format, using separate boxes to show each step of your proposed solution.
Step 4B: Solution Sketching (2 of 2) — Gather Sketches
For the next few minutes you’re going to go around and grab screenshots of everyone’s final sketches and post them to the MURAL board for a final review and voting session. Once each team member’s sketch has been handed off feel free to take a 2 minute break, with everyone meeting backup to wrap-up
Step 4C: Solution Sketching (2 of 2) — Discuss
You’re going to time-box each person to 2 minutes max. Your Scribe will be taking notes as each person is presenting their sketches for reference later. This should take no longer than 10 minutes.
Step 4D: Solution Sketching (2 of 2) — Voting
Start thinking about the 3 solutions/parts of solutions that you want to vote for. Your team is going to use the “round stickies” in the MURAL voting session as our votes. Instruct the team when you’ve started the “Voting Session” in MURAL. Voting should take no longer than 3 minutes from start to finish.
Step 4E: Solution Sketching (2 of 2) — Review Votes
Let’s take a look at the votes and see what the results were.
Step 5: Next Steps
What have we accomplished?
Identified the solution we want to test first
Generated a backlog of ideas to test and In/Validate
Worked collaboratively to produce results fast
Produce a rapid click-thru prototype of the chosen solution sketch
Compile and share the backlog of solutions generated today
A Special Thank You
I’d like to give a special thank you to Jeff Gothelf, author of the book Lean UX. His teachings, especially those on Design Studios, are instrumental in informing the way I've conducted Design Studios.
I hope you've found this "How to Run Design Studios Remotely" helpful. If you have an additions, suggestions and or general comments please don't hesitate to share them in the comments section below.