Notes on The Design Studio Method by Todd Zaki Warfel

from the Agile NYC UX conference 2012, link to Vimeo video here

Selling point to prospective team members/C-level execs: You can generate 2 weeks worth of work with 1 six-hour session. You’ll probably produce hundreds of design concepts and they’ve already been roughly vetted by devs. Engineers from one company estimated that their time estimation accuracy went from 60% to 90% after the company instituted design studios.


4 components: Create, Pitch, Critique, Iterate


  • Use painters’ tape to affix butchblock paper to the wall
  • Provide 8.5/11 paper with 8 boxes on them as templates and medium Sharpies
  • Each team should get a persona (hopefully unique to them) and a design challenge (a scenario or set of scenarios)
  • Mix teams–people from different dimensions of the business on one team–ideally, there would be a business person, dev person, design/ux person on each team. (And I would add in support staff: let’s get some people who’s jobs aren’t directly involved in this research.) 3-5 people per team.
  • Have a stopwatch or alarm clock handy
  • Hang up printouts of similar existing sites for inspiration
  • Maybe hang up quotes from real customers on what the problems/goals are

Remind teams this is sketching: not drawing, not pretty, not detailed. Stick figures, boxes as buttons, squiggly lines as text–quick roughs are the goal. Only necessary details for pitching are needed–none of the little stuff. No one is using their normal tools here–everyone’s going to be rusty and that’s fine.


  • 6-8 concept sketches per team per time frame (5-10 min)
  • Hang them on the wall from left to right so you can trace the evolution of ideas


  • 3 minutes per person
  • Each person explains their scenario, their goals for the sketches, and then explains the sketches to the other members of their team
  • No one else speaks, no questions


  • The pitcher is silent
  • Team has 2 minutes to critique
  • This is NOT feedback: I like blue etc.
  • This is a critique of a design scenario’s goals and how the sketches achieved and didn’t achieve those goals
  • 2-3 ways the sketches achieved the goals and 1-2 opportunities to improve
  • Teams can mark up sketches with green (good) and red (bad) comments


  • Stealing from each other is highly encouraged! Just make it better
  • Now repeat the process with the entire teams sketching collaboratively
  • Teams now pitch to each other with the same rules as above
  • Teams have 5 minutes to sketch–starting NOW! Don’t reveal this until the very end or people will get hung up on it. (Also, giving them 10 min in the first round gave them time to think, now they just need to execute.)


  • Level playing field across the company
  • Team buy in
  • Ownership/investment by teams
  • Design concepts roughly vetted






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