Create, pitch and critique: three steps to iterative design

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Keith Jay
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Over the past year or so we’ve started running specialised 'requirements and strategy' workshops for our customers.

Organisations such as Convivio are not only proponents of this approach, but are also sharing their journey, providing really useful insight along the way. It's this kind of knowledge sharing that we all benefit from. (And to that point, for this blog, we're giving a big hat tip to Todd Zaki Warfel)

Indeed, we too here at Five Mile have noticed a shift in 'product' development: we find it increasingly necessary to present some layer of journey, wireframing and prototyping whilst in the same room as the client. A popular catch-all name for this approach is Design Studio

What is a Design Studio?

The Design Studio approach can be used to collectively get all opinions, objectives, insight and ideas out into the open before producing any plans, traditionally around content, structure, layout, wireframing or interface design. It is an organisation’s opportunity to gather all the facts as a priority, before committing to any time consuming and possibly pointless output. 

A Design Studio is an iterative 'workshop' and, because of it's focused approach, enables participants to collaborate and quickly communicate new ideas through rounds of sketching. That's right: this is about drawing.

The focus of the Design Studio (and therefore ideas) could be anything from product design and website to how to work better as in internal team.

Depending on the number of iterations, a Design Studio can take a whole day, or just a couple of hours. What's important is that you get a mix of attendees or stakeholders, from marketing and design to developers and C-level execs. 

TIP: It might prove really difficult to get senior / C-level execs into the room for the whole workshop, just get them there for the first iteration. This way you have buy-in from them: a great signal to all other attendees. 

It is an organisation’s opportunity to gather all the facts as a priority

And while you might be thinking 'but this is about drawing', it matters not one iota if people think they can or can't draw. This is about getting those simple, wobbly, scrappy lines down on paper. Not re-creating the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

What matters is that you share your idea in a visual sense and (crucially) that other team members participate in discussing them.

The Design Studio method: three components of create, pitch and critique

Create:  

Each team is made up of typically 3-5 people, and should be a mix of disciplines (business, design, development, C-level and so on). Teams then get a different persona, plus a 'design' challenge scenario or series of scenarios.

Everyone is given pencil and paper to respond to the design challenge by sketching out a number of concepts in a short timeframe. (We're talking 5 minutes!).

Pitch:

Once all the concepts have been sketched out, each team gets just three minutes to pitch the scenario to the other teams. In the pitch they not only have to clearly outline the goals, but also how the design addresses those goals.

Critique:

This is peer feedback - again, time framed for maximum impact: Just two minutes per critique.

The critique is based on the persona and associated goals the pitching team are trying to achieve, focusing on two or three ways it solves the problem, plus one or two ways to improve it.

It's important to stress that this isn't about like or dislike. It's about focusing on what a team idea did or didn't achieve.

Iteration:

After the feedback, using the insight from the critique, each team refers back to their persona and design challenge scenario and repeats this process. Except this time, they do it individually. This means each person in the team takes the persona and carries out the stages 'create and pitch' again, followed by team critiques.

At the end each team takes the ‘best’ pitches to collaboratively iterate, creating final pitches. 

The final pitches are then shared with other teams: Same rules apply: three mins to pitch the concept based on the goals, and then two mins to critique the design (addressing the goals).  

What then?

It's all very well doing this... but what next? Well, for example, as an agency we at Five Mile would take the designs generated at the Design Studio back to our office and do the same process internally: this is our filtering process.

We'd re-do an internal 'design studio' (create, pitch and critique) until we have boiled it down to the final concept for prototype.

The prototype is then critiqued with the client in the same way: create, pitch, critique until we have a final product ready to create and test. 

Preparation is key!

A pre-workshop questionnaire should be sent to all the attendees as part of the Design Studio preparation. There are many ways you can do this, but we find Google Forms does the trick. It's free, and has a really simple interface. 

It's important to stress that this isn't about like or dislike. It's about focusing on what a team idea did or didn't achieve

The questionnaire will create a picture of user identity and needs, from which the Design studio can be built. 

But we realise that it’s not just clients that can benefit from this approach: agencies and SMEs can too by using the Design Studio process for any number of internal comms needs.

The benefits of Design workshop process

  • Team-buy-in (esp. with C-Level)

  • Fast paced and focused idea generation

  • Ownership/investment from personnel (this is really important!)

Now you have the basics of the Design Studio in place, here are a few choice complimentary tools that aid cultural shift. And BTW: Slack is great but there are other solutions and ideas that can also help extend internal transparency, concepts, knowledge and information sharing.

Organisational tools

  • Culture mapping:  "A tool that organisations can use to assess, map and transform their cultures"
  • Business canvas: "A strategic management and entrepreneurial tool: describe, design, challenge, invent, and pivot your business model."

Sharing tools

  • Tiny Pulse: "A performance management tool that helps leaders facilitate 1:1 meetings to improve employee performance and achieve company goals"
  • NooQ: "Spend more time working and less time reading"
  • Geckoboard: "Quickly visualise key metrics from the tools you use"
  • I done this: "Run more effective and productive teams"

Happy designing!

About Keith Jay

Keith is owner and Managing Director of Five Mile. He specialises in business strategy as well as creative design, content strategy and user experience. He's a developer and has been a web designer since 2000.

@fivemile