Design Studio Guide

What it is:

Design Studio is a collaborative sketching exercise for the entire team. The result is rapid concept generation. The output of a design studio session is low-fidelity sketches and possibly wireframes.

How to do it:

It is the designer's responsibility to call these meetings and to facilitate them. In a typical session, teams of 5 to 8 people sketch together, critique the work as it emerges, and converge on a solution they believe has the greatest chance at success. The designer then takes the ideas generated and produces designs. The technique described below (from the book Lean UX) is specific, however, the specifics of the ritual are not the point. Solving design problems with your colleagues and clients is the end goal.


  1. Define the problem and constraints: the first step is to ensure that everyone is aware of the problem you are trying to solve (including any assumptions, personas, hypotheses, and constraints).

  2. Generate ideas individually (~10 minutes): each member of the team will need a template - a sheet of paper with 6 empty boxes on it. Ask each person to label each box of his or her sheet with a persona and a specific pain point or problem (s)he will be addressing for that persona. Team members can write the same persona/pain point combination under multiple boxes if they have multiple solution ideas. Next, team members get five to ten minutes to generate six low-fidelity sketches (visual articulations) of solutions. These could be UI sketches, workflows, diagrams, etc.

  3. Present and critique those ideas: give each team member three minutes to present his or her sketches to the team (when doing this remotely, each person can upload their sketches to a Trello card on a shared Trello board and screen share when presenting their work). Presenters should state which persona and pain point they were addressing and explain the sketch. Each team member can provide critique and feedback to the presenter. Constructive questions such as "How does this feature address the persona's specific problem?" are helpful. The feedback should give the presenter concrete ideas for iterating on the idea.

  4. Iterate and refine those ideas (~10 minutes): ask each participant to take her or his original ideas and the critique to refine their thinking into a single, large sketch (a full sheet). The goal is to develop a more evolved version of the idea with the most merit. Go through a round of presentation and critique once more.

  5. Converge on and develop ideas as a team: in this step, the team tries to converge on the idea they feel has the greatest chance for success. Using a large whiteboard or paper pad (if available), the team sketches the components and workflow for the idea (remote teams will need to use an online collaboration tool and/or screen sharing for this step). To reach consensus, the team will probably have to prioritize and pare back features.

The artifacts created in the design studio are then used to create wireframes, prototypes and code.


  • Pencils / Pens
  • Markers
  • Colored highlighters
  • Sketching templates (a blank sheet of paper divided into four or six boxes)
  • For remote design studio: Camera for photographing sketches and uploading to Trello
  • For remote design studio: Trello board
  • For remote design studio: Google Hangout or other video-conferencing tool with screen sharing capabilities

Why to do it:

  • Collaborative design builds shared understanding and trust, and increases feelings of ownership of the work being done
  • Designing together increases the design IQ of the entire team
  • It allows every member of the team to articulate her ideas
  • It gives designers a much broader set of ideas to draw upon as they refine the UX