Five Tips for Facilitating an Effective Design Studio

May 18, 2016
SVP, Experience Design

Design Studios are becoming very popular for a reason: They are ways that small teams can quickly come together, identify problems, and co-design a solution. One of the most important factors to a successful Design Studio is having a good facilitator who keeps the team moving forward together. Below are five suggestions for facilitating your next effective Design Studio:

Assign homework

You’re pulling together a crack team to put their heads together and solve a problem. In order to get the most out of the group, you’ll need to provide enough background for them to hit the ground running. By creating an Experience Brief and circulating it before the meeting, your team is able to digest the challenge and come ready with questions.

Start with an agenda

You may be tempted to just pull smart people together and see what happens, but in order to make the most of your time, an agenda is critical. Some of the most successful Design Studios I’ve experienced have been as short as four hours from briefing to prototyped solution. The only way this is accomplished is to have someone in advance decide what types of activities need to happen and how much time is necessary to complete them.

Be the parking lot police

Just because you have an agenda doesn’t mean it’s easy to keep it. In order to keep on track, it’s important to have someone act as Time Cop. That person can alert the team when it’s time to switch activities, identify when the topic is drifting, and add questions and action items to the parking lot for later. There may be times where issues are surfaced that need addressing, and the facilitator should be able to adjust the agenda as necessary.

Document as you go

Everyone has experienced the feeling of exhilaration after leaving a productive working session, followed by the despair of having to document everything that was decided after the fact. In order to avoid an hour of emails and Slack conversations in an attempt to recall if anyone remembers who said what, keep a running list of action items. Even better, assign a scribe to capture your work as you go, using pictures of your whiteboards and sketches.

Sketch, present, iterate

The best work that comes out of a Design Studio is when everyone is aligned and the solutions are actionable. The secret sauce that takes you from an average sketching session to those actionable solutions is iterating together and gaining buy-in from the team. Be sure to leave enough time in your agenda to sketch independently, share your work, and iterate as a team on a shared solution that everyone can get behind.