Design Studio after one year. What Design Studio is not.

A year has passed since I started using the Design Studio method within our company.  What started as an experiment is now an assumed part of our product development process for three products and development teams. As the use of this technique has grown, and its value recognised, I have begun to see some challenges that come with increased scale. I also became aware of what Design Studio was not. A Final Solution

Problem + Design Studio ≠ Final Solution

As the Design Studio was integrated into the development process for each User story we conducted at least one session. The output of this session was generally enough for a design to be refined and a set of wireframes or prototype to be created. After some time, I noticed that some of the teams develop a bit of

 ‘Let's do a Design Studio so I can get my wireframes’

type of sentiment. A bit of the ‘check box’ mentallity was slipping in. When this wasn't the case or we had to conduct more then one session, the teams became impatient. This is still an ongoing struggle, but I usually start every session with the following:

Warning: Design studio will not result in the final design.

Then repeat this.

Wrong Mindset -

Over time I began noticing a large amount of idea ownership. Persons or groups that developed ideas seem to have difficult letting them go. They presented them enthusiastically and did not accept critique. In some extreme cases, there was ‘competitions’ between ideas to see which ones that made it through the convergence stage -  I think competition can be healthy and I found this encouraged a good exchange of ideas, but only as long people were willing to let their ideas go. Ideas are very personal things and people develop intense pride and ownership of them. However, it isnt until we let the ideas go and see if they fly do they have any long term value.

Is not a verb, but a Culture

When I first encountered Design Studio in Architecture School the term was not used as a verb, a method, but more of a place. A Design Studio was a messy place, with half finished models, empty soda cans and pens and paper everywhere.  It was a place of collaboration, exploration and experimentation. The space facilitates brainstorming, critiquing, presenting, prototyping, sketching, researching, synthesizing, and many other activities that figure within the design process. Sometimes it smelled like pizza.

After one year I can see we have a bit to go to develop this type of culture. It is my hope that over time, and by making some incremental changes, we can approach this.

A fixed formula - mix it up

After a few months of having at least one Dersign Studio session per week, many of the developers became very familiar with the process. So much so, that they pretty much began sketching when they entered the conference room. This want ideal since I really wanted people to approach solving the design problem with a fresh (somewhat) perspective. I learned through this that people are creatures of habit and take comfort in these habits. It is at this point that I began to mix things up.

Slightly different methods - since this point I have been on the look-out for some slightly different sketching methods. I decided to use the Brainsketching method and found this to be very interesting and greatly appreciated by the team. I cannot comment on the quality of the ideas, but there is definitely a higher sense of collaboration around the resulting ideas produced

Environmental changes - during this time I began to concentrate of the physical environment. I was a bit limited since the sessions where held in a conference room. I usually waited for everyone to come in and sit down, then I invited everyone to stand and then exchange seats with the person directly across from themselves. I had experimented with music a bit, but made a point to always have music playing when people came in and during the sketching sessions. I am a big jazz and low-fi fan so played a mixture of Jan Johansson, French FIP radio, the Dining Rooms, Philip Glass and Mike Oldfield.