What is Design Studio Method

Min Chen
4 min readJun 29, 2017
Photo by Cody Davis on Unsplash

The Design Studio Method — Todd Zaki Warfel from William Evans on Vimeo.

Design studio is born from industrial design and architecture. Three notions around Design Studio are:

  • Create
  • Pitch
  • Critique

Todd calls his approach of design studio: 6.8.5. We can borrow his ideas and be free to create our own approach suitable for the specific context.

Methods are just methods.

➭ Create

The goal of this phase is to create concept sketches.

Do it as a team with 3–5 people. It is better to mix people with the different lens (designer, developer, business).

Provide them with materials like:

  • pen and paper
  • storyboard template
  • persona for each team (focus on this only persona during the entire session)
  • design challenges, a couple of scenarios

Warm up exercises:

  • If some of the people in the room think they can’t do a sketch, you can start with some exercises. Draw a line and show to others; draw a circle and show. If they can do these, that’s enough skills to move on.
  • Designers having no Illustrator or Sketch tool, developers no coding, sales no powerpoint, actually no one in the room is at their comfort zone. Everyone is under the same constraint situation.

First round: to create 6~8 concept sketches individually in 5 minutes.

Within 5 minutes, you don’t have enough time to add details.The sketches are rough & conceptual, with just enough design details on the page so you can have a reference to pitch to others at the next step.

The storyboard templates are there to help you. You can draw a flow, each scene on one page, or several versions of the same step.

After 5 minutes, post all the sketches on the wall. It will be good to put them from right to left, so later you can easily review the design evolution.

Tips:

Don’t tell them how much time to do these sketches until really getting started. Otherwise, people will freak out and say no, or already start thinking of the sketches, not listening to you. So just tell them before they start. They just need to execute.

Why 5 minutes, not 6,7, or 10?

More time you give to them, they will just use the time to think. For example, you give 10 minutes. During the first 5 minutes, they will not sketch. They will just think. That’s not the point of Design Studio.

➭➭ Pitch:

Use 3 minutes to pitch how your concept solved the problem.

The pitch process is clearly structured:

  • What are the scenarios you pick out to design for?
  • What are the one/two main goals to achieve with this concept?
  • How the design addressed these goals?

➭➭➭ Critique:

During the 3 minutes’ pitch, only the presenter is talking. Other people should stay silent and think about their questions.

When Critique comes, people have two minutes each for critiques. The critique should also follow a structure:

  • 2~3 ways how the design solves the problem or accomplishes the goal [✅use green to mark it out]
  • 1~2 opportunities to improve [⛔use red to mark it out]

The given critique is based on goals, not individual’s preference on the design. Think about if the design is suitable for the particular persona, scenarios and accomplishes the goal. If your thoughts are not relevant to this perspective, then they are not appropriate to add in the critique phase.

Create➭Pitch➭ Critique

During the entire Design Studio session, we will carry out several rounds of the “create/pitch/critique” process:

  1. First round is inside the team. Every team member creates individually and pitch to and get critiques from team members.
  2. Second round, take out the best solution from last round and work as a team collaboratively to iterate. Then pitch to and get critiques from other teams.
  3. Third round, come back with other teams’ feedbacks and work again as a team to iterate.
  4. Keep running. Remember to keep posting the outcome of each round on the wall from right to left so we can have a review on the evolution easily.

Tips:

Stealing is strongly encouraged.

If you like the ideas from other teams, take some into your team’s design. In the end, we are all working towards the same goal.

We usually do Design Studio in 1, 3 or 6 hours format. To ask 12 highly-paid people from the client off the clock to work together in our Design Studio, you definitely need to tell the client of the cost and benefit. Here are the numbers.

After 6 hours’ work, we generated

420 versions of concept design

for just one scenario in their entire application. And 380 of them are unique concepts. Which means: Generate two weeks of work in less than 6 hours.

That’s the outcome you can expect out of Design Studio.

And since the developers get involved in the creation process, their estimation accuracy improved 50%.

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Min Chen

User experience designer @Ginetta, from Shanghai to Zurich