Design sessions: why and how?

Monday, August 25, 2014 gc 0 Comments

A design session is used to focus on one or more design items to achieve business objectives with a group of designers. This technique could radically improve the dynamic of your team and the outcome of your project. The technique is best used when you have a three or more talented developers. 

10 reasons to conduct design sessions 

 1. Keep the team engaged and motivated
 2. Tap into the creative potential of the team
 3. Bring the team together on a decision with a common understanding
 4. Separate the designer from the design. You are not your design
 5. See with new eyes
 6. Learn from each other
 7. Close gaps (reduce distance between team members)
 8. Keep it simple
 9. Improve and simplify your process
 10. You think that you know it all

How to conduct and structure effective design sessions?

Here is an effective way to conduct and structure design sessions for your team.

How to Conduct a Design Session
A design session usually consists of two to three design items to help reduce time and consolidate our moves. A design item typically takes about 15 - 20 minutes. A design session should separate the “what we want” from the “how we want to do it.” It provides a venue to consider alternative solutions that could be simpler, clearer, easier, more secure, and more extensible.

Session Goals
The goals for the design sessions are to be…

        Encourage and allow others to contribute

        Be respectful

        Make your point

        We need to quickly understand, justify, and agree on an approach (the how)

    Interesting (not boring)
        Innovative solutions are a side-effect

What’s in it for you?

    Your idea gets used in an area that makes a difference

    Learn from others

    Gain a common understanding

    Have fun 

Attendance is optional. There are probably a few different reasons to join a particular design session:
    You are passionate about it

    It directly impacts your work

    You are interesting in learning more about a particular area

Design Item Template

 Description: {Describe the problem statement}
 Alternatives: {List out alternatives provided by team with pros and cons}
 The Action, Next Steps (such as a spike solution), or Decision
 Rationale:  (A is important, so we chose B, accepting downside C): {There is always a downside; no decision is perfect}

Challenge Questions

Can this be deferred?

Is this the right item to consider?

Is there a way to simplify the problem/solution?

Does the item imply the what we want to do?

Does this help us deliver on-time?

This same format can also be used for process items.


The results of these sessions should be kept in a journal. The journal can be quite helpful to review decisions and to stop history from being rewritten. I have used this technique with bigger teams  including the redesign of The journal should be comprised of notes for each design item (design item template) and the overall structure described above.

Often, you will still need to make a decision to resolve a team deadlock, but by using the design session technique, there will be fewer deadlocks and members will be able to accept and follow the direction.

These sessions can be fun and effective. Team members want more of them. One key to success is to have the following team values: respect, collaboration, communication, and simplicity.

I would like to know what works for you. Is your team engaged or zoned out?


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