The design community has been raving about the design studio methodology for quite some time now. To get to the dynamics of the design studios, the designers need to go beyond the periphery of design and take into view other factors like social psychology and behavioral economics. When it comes to design problems, we get into action only as and when needed. As soon as teams come across a design problem, they try to fit in the very first idea that strikes them as the solution.

And if that turns out to be amiss, they pick up a different track. Now, design studio methodology, on the contrary, works on more systematic lines. Although several variations have been suggested as in Ungar and White’s first 2008 case study in respect to this methodology and further even Will Evans put forth more refined additions, but in the end, there is one basic flow they all adhere to.

Feedback-Amongst-The-Other-Members-Design-Studio

A design problem is conceived and then a team of designers, developers, and product managers gets to work and rack their brains. The ideas that are generated are then open to criticism and feedback amongst the other members of the group. After repeated ideating and group discussion, apt ideas are zeroed upon and a final outcome is produced. How come this beats the conventional methodologies? There are two plus points-

  • By way of this approach, a group comes together in force with a unique combination of skill sets like designing, development and product execution.
  • Design studio adheres to the concept of dynamic and iterative process, that is, reasoning, feedback, and selection. Only surviving ideas make it to the creative flow.

1. Better Options

Better-Options-Team-Work-Design-Studio

In the usual make do design approach, as stated above, a team explores on a single idea and scrutinizes it. As they proceed, there are more chances that the team will miss out on the faults in the suggested solution or devise super alternatives. If the result is zilch, they get in search of better options, but generally confirmation bias tends to deter the pace of the team and reduces it to its original sub-optimal path. The drawback here is that the team overlooks other, potential solutions that can be of great use.

Design studio cuts down confirmation bias by firstly, setting in a clear brainstorming period, which registers lots of ideas to be explored, before actually being loyal to one. Actually, design studio methodology can improve upon a point more by recognizing and rewarding the great extent of ideas generated. It is seen that the ideas congregate after the initial brain work, so it is recommended to get a pool of ideas ready with you.

Better-Options-Design-Meeting-Brainstrom

Also, design studio fires against confirmation bias. Confirmation makes individuals complacent with their earlier ideas posed during brainstorming. Thus they evade group thinking by being self-satisfied with their own ideas before even coming across other people’s ideas.

Design thinking has its own concepts of divergence i.e. devising new alternatives and convergence i.e. amalgamating distinct ideas. For the majority of the groups, convergence is pretty natural; people are understanding and don’t clash in the expression of ideas, so ideas are merged and incorporated quickly. Divergence, on the other hand, is deliberate and thus, design studios are excellent for executing this important step.

2. The Group Zone

The-Group-Zone-Design-Studio

The best part is that the design studios stress on large groups to deal with a particular design problem. It is rightly said that two heads are better than one. Definitely, diverse groups are any day better than uniform groups. In the 1960s, scientists created a complementary task model that emphasized that groups outshine individuals as they combine the best of talents and resources. This thought very much feeds our common sense today.

Research posts 1960s spell a different story as such. Social Science, since the last century, has put forth the fact that groups are prone to clashes and pose limitations in terms of thinking, self-censorship, restriction etc. We have all been a part of laid back groups. The design community is majorly against those groups that work on the distinction of ‘design by committee’. So, with all these troubles are there any chances that groups can excel in performance as against individuals? Can individuals work better than design studios?

3. The Performance Ladder

In order to learn whether groups outperform individuals or vice versa, you need to look at the type of task:-

  • Brainstorming Challenges
    At the time of brainstorming, as per research, it is seen that best outcomes are derived when individuals rack their brains on their own and then merge their ideas.The possible explanations that groups suffer at the brainstorming stage are- production blocking; lack of focus due to other person talking, social loafing; individuals don’t put in their best foot forward when in groups and group think; individuals don’t consider unconventional leads in a group.
    The-Performance-Ladder-Brainstorming-Challenges
    According to an experiment, researchers encouraged the recipients to shout and clap as loud as they could; it was recorded that the people clapped around 20-30% less loudly in a group as compared to individually.
  • Creativity Challenges
    With a creative task at hand, groups outshine individuals only if all the individuals fall in the similar skill range. Further, it is noted that weak and laid back members affect the entire group performance and this gets even more aggravated if the task is grilling.In the case of complicated creative tasks, if a group has the number of both high-and-low performing individuals, it is possible that any one of the outstanding individuals will beat the group on his or her own performance only. Generally, for typical creative problems, it is better if you consider that the group has more chances of outperforming individuals.
  •  Complex Challenges
    Complex-Challenges-Design
    There are cases when the group cannot decide what the actual problem is, or it can be the case of multiple overlapping or even sub-problems. In these complex problems, groups work with their second-best member at the rescue.What does that mean? Well, complex problems don’t strike similarly united solutions, so generally group members set to convince one another. Whosoever makes sense with his sensibilities get to the charge of obtaining the approval of his peers.

The group, thus, will be just like the next-best individual, depending upon the fact that he understood the solution explained by the best individual. As it is difficult to ascertain who will perform the task commendably, opting for a group is the logical thing to do. The findings stated below work for the design studio methodology-

  1. Recognizing and creating a design problem is a complex challenge. This is a limitation for the design studio and should be tackled before the actual set up. Research says it is done perfectly only in a group setting.
  2. The sketching stage of a design studio is part of the brainstorming challenge and as per research must be done individually.
    Stage-Of-A-Design-Studio
  3. Be it group sharing or feedback or discussion stage of a design studio, all are creative challenges. They include analyzing ideas, making use of ideas to interpret the problem, finding a unique blend of ideas and so forth. Research suggests that group is the best option for this one.For tougher problems or a team comprising of varied skill sets, it will be good if there is a single, highly talented individual who takes over group’s ideas and design on his or her own.

It is surprising, but yes, not only did the social scientists were in favor of the design studio, they even invented one 50 years ago by the name of Nominal Group Technique (NGT). NGT supports only one round of brainstorming and discussion, so considering the working, the design studio is more similar to iterative NGT.

4. Research Says

Research-Design-Studio

In a nutshell, what we are trying to say is that design studio methodology is enforced by research and is based on theory. In contrast to the typical ad hoc designs, the teams perform tremendously well if they include design studios in their flow. Note, however, there are a few lessons that you must follow as you incorporate it in your companies-

  1. Design studio doesn’t elaborate on the methods to study the domain or creation of design problem. Most part of the design theory talks of interpretation and combination. In that context, design studio is typically about the combination and assumes that the team is through with the task of interpretation before the studio comes in force. This is not the mistake of design studio, neither a limitation. Complete your homework before the studio comes to action.
  2. In the performance ladder, we get to learn about two cautions involved in the group sharing or feedback or discussion stage of design studios. First, be particular of who you invite as individuals low on performance affect the overall group conduct.Second, groups tend to underperform individual for the complicated design issues; actually, using a single high-performing individual works here.
    Design-Discuss-Design-Studio
  3. NGT, which matches its origin to a design studio, was initially a one-pass process. Research has observed over the years how much this model poses a constraint in terms of cross-fertilization of ideas so as to derive unique blend of ideas. Design studio now is two pass i.e. design-discuss-design, but this still hinders cross-fertilization to a great extent. The greater a number of iterations, the better is the studio.

Hope this article has enlightened you on the concept and working of design studios. Design studios are no doubt the bright future of the design world and will empower design by leaps.

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Prince Pal

UX/UI Strategist & Usability Tester at Think360 Studio
For 12+ years I have designed, developed and marketed websites / apps startups in New York, California, Florida and in India. Always focused on great User Interface is key.

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