Design studio after user interviews

In a recent project where we were planning some big changes, we decided to conduct a design studio session a week after user interviews were completed. For both sets of session we invited stakeholders as well as members of the dev team.

Biggest win: attendees were more informed

The user interviews created a baseline of understanding about the users of our tool. Attendees appeared to be designing less for themselves and more for the users. During the session, I heard fewer phrases that alluded to self-design, such as “I like this better” or “I think it should be like this” than I usually do. Instead, attendees’ referenced users by name from the interviews and brought up terms as well as wording learned from the interviews.

I felt that the group was working at a different level and it felt good.

How the sessions were run

In general, nothing was particularly special about the interviews or the structure of the design studio session, but I’ll talk a little more about it below.

User interviews

We interviewed a bunch of our customers. Some were using that specific tool and others were potential users of the tool. Just like other interviews, we wanted to get a better picture of our users and how they do their work. But our primary goal was to validate our high-level user scenarios to figure out where our tool would best fit into their process.

During the interview question development, we started with interview questions we had created before for past interviews and we quickly modified them. We then had a review session with stakeholders working directly with current customers of the tool. We came out of the session with new and modified questions.

We invited stakeholders and members of the dev team to attend the phone interviews sessions (as listeners). We recorded the conversations and took notes that we shared with the entire crew.

We compiled our notes in a shared drive and posted the audio recordings.

Through the interview process, we quickly learned that we needed to slightly tweak our high-level user scenarios. We also learned lots of insights into our customers work in the process.

Design studio

For the design studio, I decided to try out the 90-minute design studio posted by Al Abut from Zapier. I invited 16 people including developers, testers, PMs, stakeholders and UX. Before doing much planning, I sent out a meeting request with a quick agenda to block out their calendars. I also scheduled two adjacent rooms for overflow in case we needed. Then I got to work.

While planning the session, I realized that I needed to spend extra time to introduce design studio and for closing. Design Studio is a fairly new activity with stakeholders and it’s always a good idea to spend a little time to get folks to better understand the role of UX in product development. This ate away into the 90-minute session. I would have bumped it up to 2 hours, but that extra half hour seemed like a lot to ask for a ‘meeting’.

To get the session right, I set up a dry run session the morning of the design studio with two members of the UX team and one stakeholder. The session helped me adjust my intro and get the timing right.

Materials used

I printed up 6-up and 1-up templates and also a bunch of plain paper. I provided post-its, markers, pens, and crayons.   Most people gravitated to the 6-up sheets of paper or the plain paper. They also gravitated to pens. I think one of my UX team members was the only one to use crayons (not naming any names, but I know who you are).

Introduction to the session

The intro took a few minutes. Below are the parts to the intro:

  • Intro to design studio
  • Agenda
  • High-level overview of goals. We listed goals for the two audiences that use the tool as well as business goals.
  • Call to action (what they would be going to sketch)
  • Talk about sketching (sketching 101)
  • Encouraging message about coming up with ideas, even outrageous ones

Break up into groups and warm-up exercise

Before diving into the sketching, I asked folks to break up into 4 groups and I made sure there was a UX member in each group. Then I asked them to do a quick exercise to get them into a divergent thinking state of mind. Each team picked a random object and I asked them come up with as many ideas as to what the object could be used for.

Side note: this was the first time I had a warm up session for a design studio. This idea came from a post-design studio survey we sent out a few months ago.

Part 1: divergent thinking

Each individual was asked to come up with as many ideas as they could in 5 minutes. Then after 5 minutes passed, each was given 5 minutes to share their ideas with their group.

Since there was a UX member on each group, I asked them to take more of a facilitation role during this stage to and hopefully reduce the chances of groupthink around a design authority figure.

Part 2: collaborative design

During this part, I asked the UX team members to take more of a participatory role in drawing part to try to get the ideas from the group. If you look up the 90-minute design studio, you’ll notice there were supposed to be 3 steps. I felt somewhat guilty about taking that step out, but it felt okay with this particular group.

Close session

After round 2 was over, I thanked folks and let them know what the next steps of the process were. Within an hour of the session ending, I also sent out a quick 5-question survey, to get feedback from attendees about the session.

Outlining key ideas

Right after the session, I checked in with the UX team to see if there were any ideas that came out of the groups during round 1 that didn’t quite bubble up to round 2. After I got back to my cubicle, I went through all the sketches and compiled them into a document. I took photos of sketches and associated them with the ideas. I checked in with UX team members and noted anything I missed from the sketches.

Afterwards, I grouped up the ideas into themes and shared the compiled findings with the team.

Main regret

My main regret is that I wish I had spent more time before the design studio session to go through the findings from the interviews. But I’m glad that not more than a week passed between the last interview and the design studio session so the interviews were fresh in the minds of attendees.