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Why we do design studio, how we do it, what we learned so far & the material we use.
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Design Studio Kit

precious design studio introduction

General Intro

Since having been trained in the Design Studio Method in 2013 by Todd Zaki Warfel (watch him give a talk on Design Studio in this video), we conducted a lot of workshops using the method – in all different kinds of contexts: for design teaching, for idea exploration or project kickoff workshops with clients or internally. We have also trained other teams how to use the method. With the Design Studio Kit we would like to share what we learned, how we organize and structure these workshops and the materials we used.

It’s an ongoing process and you can help us improving it with getting in touch with questions, comments and critique. Thanks & enjoy!

Before: Prepare

There are a few things that should be considered long enough before you actually do a workshop. The effort depends on the duration of the workshop, the quantity and quality of the team and on the field or topic it’s been done for.

Designing the teams

  • Plan the teams beforehand – this is crucial for establishing the right amount of energy and quantity and quality of ideas and sketches
  • If you don’t know the people that are going to be involved, make sure to have at least one contact person who knows them well enough. Talk to this person and design the teams together
  • teams with less than 3 people don’t work at all from our experience. Rather use 4
  • each team should be very heterogenous to achieve enough different perspectives and „positive friction“
  • each team needs to have its own facilitator. We had workshops, where single facilitators moved between two teams, but it doesn’t work really well
  • print out the names of the group members and put them on an envelope (this usually prevents discussions around the team constellations). Put all the material needed in these envelopes – like the persona, other research material, the 8-ups and 1-ups. The scenarios/group tasks should only be handed out right before sketching begins, though).

Example Group Material Envelope

Planning the day

  • we did several half day Design Studios, but now think that it’s always better to have a full day. It’s often not so easy for people especially in large organizations to leave their daily routines and thinking models. It takes time, but we learned that later rounds and iterations usually are better (also because people become more accustomed with the method and the environment)
  • split the day into Morning and Afternoon. The morning starts with introduction of the teams, the methodology and an immersion with the insight and involves some iterations of Design Studio. After a nice and yummy lunch, several more Design Studio iterations are taking place
  • we sometimes end the day with a very short, more open round of brainstorming with post-its on a wall. It’s a good way to wrap up, or „open the window“ even further, we also learned that an (exhausting) day of Design Studio sets a pretty good ground for brainstorming. Let the teams cluster their post-its a little bit, and give each team member 3 colored adhesive dots to rate the best thoughts and ideas
  • if you do the Design Studio Workshop in your office or studio, make sure to have enough space and walls for all planned teams. You can use any free wall, or mobile walls (like KAPA boards or such). Also, let the rest of your team know about the workshop – it can get quite intense and vivid, so they better have their headphones with them
  • if you do the Design Studio Workshop at your clients space, or a place that you even don’t know before, make sure to go there before the workshop. Go through your plan of the day, your team constellation, your plans for coffee and lunch breaks etc. You will need to improvise for sure, so try to eliminate as many unpleasant surprises as possible
  • breaks and food are essential! take your time (like at least 1 hour lunch break) and make sure to have healthy and high quality food. don’t do it the lazy way and just order pizza or use one of those convenient office catering services. Always have in mind that the breaks, the food, the drinks, the coffee have a huge influence on the overall experience of the workshop. And if your goal is to come up with fresh, innovative or even disruptive ideas, offering standard food is probably not the best idea …
  • clarify if there are vegetarians or vegan people involved (or other diets)
  • have some sweets, lemonade, energy bars, espresso at hand if the energy level lowers after 3/4 of the day

Mobile Walls Example am
Mobile Walls Example pm

Why Design Studio

If you ask yourself, or if somebody asks you the „Why Design Studio“ question, here are some benefits:

  • Interdisciplinary A mix of great people with different kinds of backgrounds and perspectives usually leads to great dynamic and „positive friction“. It’s not only about mixing business, design, technology, editorial and product people – you can also invite some actual target users. If you have the impression of the teams becoming too homogenous (eg. only designers), try to add some people of your company and let them wear a different hat. Or invite friends as „troublemakers“ (so for example, if you have only designers and programmers, try to find a person with a business perspective to take the role of giving the business perspective).

  • Level playing field Everybody uses the same tools: a pen and paper. And that’s something anybody can use, no matter what background or experience they have. Nobody can use their favorite tools (Photoshop, VIM, Excel). Also, no matter if intern or CEO, everybody should be on the same level for the Design Studio. And if some participants get too „bossy“, that’s the job of the facilitators.

  • Idea exploration The Design Studio Method is perfect to explore are broad range of ideas, to diverge on questions and topics. Sometimes a day with 15 participants can lead to hundreds of ideas. Although ideas can be converged a little bit over the course of the day, Design Studio is not so well suited to go really deep into the detailed design.

  • Team buy-in Design Studio lets you involve a broad range of different roles and stakeholders of your venture in a very early stage of the design process. They get to know each other better, learn to understand how other people work, how they think and how they give and take critique.

  • Ownership/Investment It’s also a great chance to involve important stakeholders and decision makers very early in the process and help them understand the goals, questions and challenges much better. They experience how the teams work together on ideas and contribute with their own approaches (and also need to take critique from other participants). This usually leads to a high level of investment in the project, and often decision makers already own several ideas that were born as a collaborative team effort during the Design Studio Workshop.


Every Design Studio Workshop should be based on insight. To gather it, we usually spend a lot of effort in preparation of the workshop: it starts with asking good questions to relevant stakeholders, but most often continues with user and literature research. We think this doesn’t have to be a huge project, but little research is always better than no research!

Goal of design research

  • Understand the people you're designing for.
  • understand their needs, problems, behavior
  • feel their delight, feel their pain (empathy)
  • observe HOW they behave and understand WHY they do things

"research is formalized curiosity" (Sarah Parmenter, @sazzy)

Why do we carry out research?

  • To frame the problem right?

“Framing the problem right is 90% of the work” (Einstein)

  • To achieve good, relevant and sustainable solutions

How to carry out design research?

1. Define the problem and what you want to find out

  1. How: Plan and prepare for the Research (research techniques)

Research techniques

  • Say: Interviews
  • Do: Observation, diaries, etc
  • Make: Sketching, collages, etc

3. Who: Find the right people to interview

  • Experienced something specific recently
  • Extreme users

4. Collect the data: Carrying out interviews

  • Tips to carry out interviews
  • Tips on recording interviews (see slide deck below)

5. Analyze the data

6. Synthesize and use the results

Research Slidedeck
Example Persona
Example Scenario/Task

Book recommendations

Just enough research by Erika Hall (A Book Apart)
Designing for the Digital Age: How to Create Human-Centered Products and Services by Kim Goodwin (Wiley)

During: Make

Hello, my name is …

  • Start the day with a short people introduction
  • Give a simple introduction task to participants: let them sketch something in 5 minutes, put their name on the sheet and then shortly introduce themselves (name, function) and their sketch. This usually prevents too long anecdotes and job title bragging and also sets the mode for the day, where everybody will use a pen and paper and limited time.
  • People have their first contact with the tools they are going to use during the day
  • Show them your timer (eg. pClock for iPhone), so they have already seen an important tool of the day


  • Introduce yourself again as the instructor/facilitator of the day
  • Present a well structured agenda of the day
  • Talk about breaks – they are the only slots for coffee and checking mails (otherwise the energy breaks)
  • Only use as many slides as necessary. It's about making things and collaborating, not listening to a single person.

Example Housekeeping slidedeck

Introducing the Design Studio Method

  • try to avoid slides! Design Studio is about making, about creating tactile artifacts. So set the mode with living what you preach. It also helps to actually involve the material that’s being used during the workshop (instead of showing detached photos of the material on slides)

Some introductory words:

  • we design for people. To be empathetic with them, we consider actual situations we learned from our research (eg. we use personas and scenarios for our tasks)
  • we sketch User Interfaces: this is how they see and interact with our products
  • It’s about making, not talking. No lengthy discussions.
  • We all work with the same tools: pen and paper (show pen and paper)
  • We work with time boxing, which leads to focus
  • Be very honest and direct with your critique, but always constructive and based on the goals, context, topic, not your personal taste
  • Stealing ideas is highly encouraged! The only requirement: you need to make them better
  • each group has a facilitator to take care of the timing and the overall flow of the iterations
  • we work in an iterative process: Sketch, Pitch, Critique. The critique we get we use for the next sketching iteration …

These are the three building blocks of Design Studio:


  • everybody uses pen and paper and sketches
  • nobody talks during this phase
  • time limit
  • don’t think too much, just sketch. Especially in early iterations, try to fill as many boxes of the 8-up as possible (show 8-up on the wall, fill 6 boxes)
  • it’s not about creating pieces of art, it’s about visualizing thoughts and ideas – everybody can do that
  • don’t write text (unless singular words are needed)
  • give names to your ideas (it helps you reflect and pitch them better)

8-up Template
1-up Template


  • the pitch is a presentation, not a discussion: one person talks, everybody else just listens
  • before you pitch: name the goals, give some context and set expectations (put the 8-ups/1-ups on the wall for the pitch. from left to right: rows for participant, columns for iterations)
  • for the pitch, think on the WHAT, but also on the HOW and WHY


  • clarification: ask your questions
  • give critique based on the pitched goals and context. this is not feedback about your opinion or personal taste
  • collect 2-3 remarks why an idea works well
  • collect 1-2 remarks why an idea doesn’t work so well (red and green pen. use it on the rough sketches you did before and are now on the wall!)

Example Intro Wall (empty)
Example Intro Wall (filled)
„Sketch, Pitch, Critique“ Template

Design Studio Flow and Structure

There’s no general rule for what the best timeframes are, it really depends on the groups, their experience and the facilitation. We usually start the first sketching iteration with a more limited duration of 3 min, then loosen it a bit to 5 min. We are very sharp with the sketching timing, but sometimes let people pitch or critique a bit longer. Although we want participants to be aware of their time limits, we also don’t want to interrupt a good flow of presentation or critique conversation.

  • Example timings for solo iterations

  • Sketch: 5 min

  • Pitch: 1,5 min

  • Critique: 2 min

  • Example timings for group iterations

  • Sketch: 10-15 min

  • Pitch: 1,5-2 min

  • Critique: 2-3 min

After: Document

In order to keep the ideas and thoughts for the future in a structured and accessible way, we usually document the workshop results and provide them with participants afterwards. This also helps to go back to ideas that have happened in early iterations but have been discarded in favor of other approaches. In this way, the output of a workshop is conserved for future reference.

It’s also possible to hand out the actual walls, so project teams can put them in their working space and go back to it from time to time (or keep on iterating and annotating the original sketches).

Design Studio Workshop Documentation Example

Creative Commons License
Design Studio Kit by precious design studio is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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