Planning And Running an Ideation Workshop — Part 1

A workshop to turn user research insights into UX solutions

After having been inspired by customer challenges and problems through gathering data during the two-month research phase for our client Medius to redesign their website, it was time to brainstorm and generate as many ideas as possible as potential solutions. And then to cluster, select, and combine the most novel ones and to develop them into concepts. This is the Ideation phase.

Before I get into how we at PRWD conducted a two-day Remote Design Studio with our client Medius, I think it’s important to first define what a design studio is:

A design studio is a meeting that brings together stakeholders from different teams to create ideas from user research insights through sketching, discussion and iteration.

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.

Why design studios can be beneficial

Design studio can often be the first time an entire product team actually comes together and perform a group-related activity to create and define new products. Everyone gets a chance to contribute — I invite developers, product managers, sales, marketing, solutions architects and basically anyone I can get to contribute. With this many different people and perspectives in the room, I can get a lot of unique approaches to the same problem.

After a design studio a product team will have a strong sense of purpose and a common vision. Each member will be able to clearly communicate that vision to their respective teams.

It will result in faster development times, smarter decisions on features and far better user experiences.

How to run a design studio

Before you run a design studio, you definitely need to prepare yourself. Here are the different steps I use to prep:

1- Assign a facilitator. The facilitator is the one that will lead the entire design studio, keep an eye on time, keep participants on track, bring enthusiasm and will not participate in the actual activities

2- Set an agenda. It includes objectives and potential outcomes.

3- Create a short presentation. My presentation includes: what a design studio is, what we will be doing and the problem we are trying to generate ideas for.

4- Decide on participants. I invite as many departments as possible. I usually cap my design studios anywhere from 6–10 people.

5- Invite people. I generally check people’s calendars to choose a few days that are best. I let them know that each session is about 60 minutes long I also make sure to include a clear agenda with objectives and any homework the participants need to do.

6- Print out design studio templates and bring them to the meeting with many pens and pencils.

7- Arrange for food. I always bring food, such as cookies, chocolates, pizza, etc.

Don’t just invite designers

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

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.What matters is that you’ve rendered the idea out of your head and is sharable among the group. What matters is that you’ve rendered the idea out of your head and is sharable among the group.

Strict moderation

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 one hour of brainstorming, people tend to get fatigued, and loose 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.

Beginning the design studio

These are the steps I take while running the design studio based on a typical 60 minute studio. The first 10 minutes everyone introduce themselves and the team they are on. I run through what a design studio is and the agenda. I always tell participants I will be time boxing the meeting, which means people might have to stop working mid-sketch. I also announce that absolutely everyone has to draw. I present the problem, answer any remaining questions and tell everyone to take a few sheets of paper.

Running the design studio

During this part of the design studio, I leave the agenda up with each activity we will do and the amount of time associated.

  1. 5 minutes: everyone takes 5minutes to sketch as many different solutions to the problem as they can. There is not limit to the ideas — they can be as wild as people want them to be. There are no wrong ideas. Remind to think creatively. Give participants 2 minute warnings.
  2. 5 minutes: each participant chooses their favorite sketch and posts them on to the board
  3. 15 minutes: each person has about 1 minute to pitch their idea to the group
  4. 5 minutes: everyone takes another 5 minutes to sketch as many ideas as possible again
  5. 5–10 minutes: if people would like to exchange their favorite sketch with a new one, they can post it on the board and get 1 minute to pitch their new idea
  6. 5 minutes: the group votes on the top three ideas/sketches. The facilitator can provide each person with two coloured stickies and they can sticky their top two choices, the three sketches with the most stickies are considered the three chosen
  7. 5 minutes: participants give any feedback on the top three sketches

Total: 55–60 minutes

Post-design studio work

After a design studio you have to provide follow-up to the participants. Write up a presentation deck including a thank you, a reminder of what you did and why, and then attach the sketches. Talk about how the designer will mock up the sketches into prototypes, which will be tested in user research.

I encourage you to run a design studio and see how it works! Also, comment back, I love hearing from people :)

UX Researcher