UX Conference 2012: Design Studio

One of the particularly good presentations at the UPA Boston 11th Annual User Experience Conference (#UPABOS12) was called “Design Studio” by designer Adam Connor.

The main points are:

  • Why brainstorming is usually implemented wrong.
  • How to properly generate ideas and consensus (the “design studio”).
    • Charrettes (are used by the design studio process).


Going from many concepts to one good one

As a super condensed version of the presentation, the main aspect of the design process that concerns us here is how to go from lots of concepts to the best single concept.

At the beginning of a project, or perhaps when some major failure has happened, some companies might try to throw people into a room for a “brainstorm” session. But…

Why Brainstorms Fail

Google Image Search to the rescue

Brainstorm implementations commonly fail because they:

  • Lack focus.
  • Progress too quickly into group think.
  • Fail to generate more ideas than from a single person.

What Brainstorms Are Supposed to Do

According to Connor, we really want to draw the line between divergent thinking and convergent thinking.

Divergent: Creativity gone wild. Generate tons of concepts, even bad ones.

Convergent: Refine, reduce, choose the best ideas. Get consensus amongst a group.

And the interface between those two halves is critique. And not just any critique, but a specific definition. It is not any mere feedback.

Connor gives a teaser of his separate critique talk on his website, but unfortunately not the whole thing. I found these webpages which describe approaches to structured design critique:


So what the hell is a charrette? It’s basically a type of collaborative problem solving workshop used to generate designs or specific parts of a design. Apparently this is also used in architecture / urban planning (maybe it originated there?).

This is a new word to me, but I have used a similar process on my own for graphic design. When I was trained in graphic design, I was taught to generate lots of thumbnail sketches and then do a few iterations of narrowing down and refinement to evolve the best design.

How it works according to Connor is summarized here.

The basic pattern is: Sketch -> Present -> Critique.


  • Who: Cross functional, include stakeholders.
  • 6-20 people
  • Break up into balanced teams of 4-6

Starting info (generated beforehand):

  • Personas
  • Scenarios
  • Business goals
  • Design principles
  • Tools needed: timer, paper, black markers, painter’s tape

Workshop process:

  1. Quickly review everything like personas, scenarios
  2. Teams
  3. Review logistics of activity
  4. Rules of critique
  5. Each group gets a scenario and persona. Note only have to do the highest priority scenarios.
  6. Sketch, present , critique. Quantity over quality for sketching.

There are three rounds total. The first round is for every individual in a group to come up with ideas for that group’s scenario. In round 2, individuals focus on a single solution. Note that stealing good ideas from each other is perfectly fine. In round 3, groups collaborate to define a single solution.

Why Use Design Studio?

  • Expands ability to collect good ideas
  • Builds a shared sense of ownership
  • Builds shared understanding of problem space
  • Can speed up design timeline
  • Gives non designers a chance to. Sometimes the best idea doesn’t come from a designer.
  • Understand ramifications that one aspect or job role has on the others.
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One Response to “UX Conference 2012: Design Studio”

  1. The constructivist definition of «1» in Multiple Form Logic also exists in Odysseus Elytis’ poetry – OMADEON Says:

    […] image source: http://synapticnulship.com/blog/2012/05/11/ux-conference-2012-design-studio/ […]

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