Facilitating a Design Studio

🧰 practices 💻 software 🖋️ illustrated

What is a design studio?

This is a workshop for members of a product team to help the team share their visions for a design product, and widen their scope of imagination for how to present information to the user.

Desired outcomes


The wide-open array of ideas and encouragement of many diverse ideas should open the team up to new ways of imagining presentation of information.


The team should be able to walk away with ideas/concepts that resonate with them as a group that a designer is able to start wireframing and prototyping for further feedback from stakeholders, team members, and users.


When a feature is talked about as a team, every team member has a picture in their mind of what it will be and how the users might use it. Team members likely don’t even realize that others are imagining something different.

Quick sketching to show and talk about these ideas gives everyone a change to show their own personal vision for imagining the problem.1

How to run it

Attendees should include other practices outside of design (for example, engineering and product folks) to gather disparate ideas from various experiences and models of thought.


paper and pen
You'll need a sheet of printer paper folded into four squares, and a pen or Sharpie (not a pencil!2)

Part 0: Prompt

This is optional, but I like to focus our sketches with a prompt, to help us narrow in on what kind of user flow we’re trying to describe. Often a design studio is not for an entire product, but rather on a specific feature or new flow for the user.

A good way to do this is pose a “How might we…“ statement to the group to draw bounds around the sketching.

Part 1: Sketching

Set a 10-minute timer and have each group member start sketching silently on their own.

They should sketch one idea per quadrant. Push attendees to get at least four disparate ideas (more if they can!) on their paper - focus on divergence, not on fleshing out any individual idea.

Drawings do not have to be detailed or perfect. They should be rough and only use basic concepts or ideas, such as sample headers, boxes, blocks, and stick figures.

Part 2: Sharing

Each person should post their sketches on the wall or upload pictures to a Miro board, and label them with their name.

Give each attendee 3-5 minutes to explain their core ideas and the flow of their sketches to the group.

Part 3: Converging

Depending on the number of participants or ideas, give attendees 3-5 dot votes, and have them place votes on any idea they found interesting.

Attendees do not need to vote on an entire design; rather, they can place their vote on a specific sub-component or piece of a design that resonates with them.

This is not a vote of which feature or idea to move forward with. Rather it is a sentiment analysis which the designer can use to understand which ideas resonate with the team.

If you have time, note down the clusters and have people say a few sentences of why they voted for a particular idea and what they liked about it.

  1. The power of visual storytelling is real. A picture really is worth a thousand words.  

  2. This is because this exercise is intended to create quick, messy, low-fidelity ideas. Giving people the option to erase leads to people overthinking the quality of the sketch. An example of how tools and environment shape behavior re Extrastatecraft  

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