Design studio

Design studio

A Design studio is a collaborative brainstorming method used to generate many ideas and/or solutions to a problem in a short period of time. It incorporates sketching, critiquing and prioritizing ideas with the goal of reaching a direction and consensus on design, whether that is a user interface, a workflow or a process.

To get the most out of a Design studio it is best to run it with a diverse group of people with different backgrounds, as this allows you to incorporate many perspectives into the ideas, making them more feasible. However, the biggest benefit of running a Design studio is that it brings your team together and creates a shared understanding and engagement around new design, which in turn tends to speed up both design and development.

In a nutshell


1 – 2 hours


– Project team
– Stakeholders


– A4 or A3 paper
– Pens in different colours
– Post-its or dots in green and pink
– Timer or smartphone to keep time
– Whiteboard, whiteboard paper or wall
– Tape

Learning materials

Facilitating ideation: In person an online (internal training)

Facilitating an effective Design studio (article) – Nielsen Norman Group

The “Parking Lot” (video) – Nielsen Norman Group

A 4 minute facilitator’s guide (video) – Nielsen Norman Group

Running Design Studios (blog post) – Amanda Lundius Mörck, Visma

Energizers and icebreakers (video) – Nielsen Norman Group



Align on the problem you wish to solve. It is important to create a clear challenge statement, e.g. How might we enable employees to report mileages in an easy way using a mobile app?

The challenge statement should clearly state who the design is intended for, what the task/process is and if there’s a specific platform to keep in mind. This helps the team focus and avoid deviations.

Decide who should participate. We recommend to involve a maximum of 7 people, including the facilitator. Make the group as diverse as possible including UX, PO, BA, developer etc.

Pick a strong facilitator. Running a Design studio requires a strong facilitator to moderate discussions, move the group forward and keeping track of time (and sticking to it!).

The facilitator is welcome to participate in the different activities as long as they can manage to stay objective.

Send out an agenda. Send out an agenda a few days before the Design studio. The agenda should outline the Design studio and include the challenge statement and any preparations the participants need to do.

For instance, if you are running the Design studio online, give the participants access to your Mural board and give them tips on ways to sketch, e.g. using pen and paper or a prototyping tool they feel comfortable with.


Give clear instructions. Before starting each activity (listed below), give clear instructions on what the participants are expected to do and how much time they have to do it, e.g. “Sketch as many ideas as possible in 3 minutes. If you get stuck, create another version of an idea.”

Sketch. Challenge each participant to create 4-8 concept (or as many as they can) in the given time. Ask them to add notes to them to distinguish the concepts. This will help during the voting and documentation.

A tip when you can’t come up with more concepts is to create another version of a concept you have already made.

Pitch. Put all concepts on a wall or table so that everyone can see them. Each participant gets 1-2 minutes to pitch all of their ideas. No-one is allowed to interrupt while someone else is speaking. 

To make it easy for everyone to understand your idea when you pitch is to clearly state who your design is for and what scenario they are in.

Be objective and focus on facts in your pitch. Avoid subjective feelings, e.g. “I like this concept because..” at all cost.

Critique and vote on the ideas using the green and pink sticky notes. Add short comments (again, avoid subjective feelings) to the sticky notes to clearly state why you voted the way you did.

The green sticky notes are used to mark concepts that have potential and that will be moved into the next round. The pink sticky notes are used to mark concepts that have room for improvement and that you will not move forward with in the next round.

Repeat! Depending on the size and complexity of the challenge in your challenge statement, we recommend doing 2-3 rounds to reach ideas that can be turned into prototypes and tested with customers and end-users.

Summarize the round. After each round, it is important that the facilitator makes a verbal summary of what you have discussed and settled on so that everyone is aligned before the next round.

Use a parking lot. When we get off topic or think of ideas that is outside of the scope, note them down on sticky notes and put them in a dedicated area of the whiteboard or wall marked as the “parking lot”. This allows the team to focus on the challenge at hand and pick up other ideas later.

Keep track of time. It’s easy to go into lengthy discussions. The facilitator needs to be quite harsh regarding time. Some discussion is needed, but help the team move forward. “Interesting discussion guys! However, we need to move on so please note it down and add it to the parking lot.”


Collect the ideas. At the end of the session, gather all the sketches and make sure the sticky notes stay on the right sketch.

Create digital prototype(s). Based on the input you have gotten during the Design studio, create one or several prototypes that can be tested with customers and/or end-users. This can be done in e.g. Balsamiq or Adobe XD.


  • Encourage stealing! Instead of getting stuck – build on each others ideas. You all want to reach the same goal.
  • Try not to introduce new concepts after the second round. This enables the team to get a sense of direction and will get you closer to a concept that can be turned into a prototype.
  • In discussions and critique, try not to shoot anyone down. Try to build on the ideas and explore together. “Yes, and..” instead of “But that would never work.”
  • It is more than possible to run a Design Studio remotely! Use Mural with the Design studio template.
  • Plan for some extra time in each step as discussions takes longer online and you need space to e.g. upload pictures etc.
  • Ask participants to either use pen and paper or a prototyping tool they are comfortable with. It is also possible to make wireframes using the shapes in Mural.

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