MCD Lab Presents: An MCD Design Studio

Here at MCD, we like each other. We also like working smart. So it’s no wonder we love workshops. With that in mind, we wanted to share how we do one of our favorite types of workshops: the design studio.


What Is It?

A design studio is a collaborative ideation workshop where cross-functional teams (clients welcome too!) rapidly explore many ways to solve a design problem. It’s a great way to generate a lot of focused and meaningful ideas in a short span of time, while also defining coherent direction as a team.

Who’s Involved?

Great ideas can come from anyone. In our design studios, we always include a diverse cross-section of our talented team members, from designers, IAs and developers to strategists, account managers and administrative staff—each with unique perspectives. And it’s always nice to include clients when possible to help build that shared ownership of the ideas that come out of the workshop.

Here’s How It Works

In a nutshell: sketch, pitch, critique. That is, sketch ideas, pitch to the team, and constructively critique each other’s ideas. It’s all about iteration—validating and improving on ideas by sharing with others, always working towards the solutions that matter most to customers.

Sketching, pitching, and critiquing must be strictly time-boxed to keep the process running efficiently and discourage participants from over-thinking ideas.

Oh, and though it might sound strange for digital work, in a design studio you’re going to work analog. Break out the paper, pencils, and post-its! This allows you to level the playing field, so to speak, and include all those participants who aren’t familiar with digital design tools. It also breaks designers out of the confines of those tools, and allows everyone to let the ideas flow freely.

Before the Studio

In our opinion, the work you do before the design studio is the single biggest factor in ensuring a successful session. In order to get folks focused on the task at hand during the studio, they need to clearly understand:

  • The problem(s) you’re trying to solve. Business problems and/or customer problems.
  • The challenge of the day. To solve the problem(s) at hand.
  • Any relevant insights and research. To help inform and focus designs.
  • Who you’re solving for. Any customer needs and behaviors we already know.

As a design studio facilitator, it’s your job to prepare each of these pieces in an easily digestible way. The better people understand what they’re to do, the more productive the group will be.

You’ll also want to build a visual outline for the entire studio to keep everyone on the same page throughout the fast-paced workshop! Check out our sample design studio presentation as a reference.

During the Studio

Ok, you’ve done your prep work and gathered everyone in a room. Now what?


Team up. Break the crowd out into cross-functional teams and do a few ice breaker exercises to get everyone comfortable with fast sketching, sharing with team members, and commenting on others’ work.

Research and Insights. Present the problem, challenge, and research to the room. Let people ask questions and make sure everyone is clear on what you’re there to accomplish.

Empathize. After you present what is already known about your customers’ needs and behaviors, give your participants some time to empathize with them. This step is essential in making sure teams really understand the person they are building for. We use a variety of methods to empathize with the customer, including building proto-personas.

Start sketching! As the facilitator, you must pre-determine how many ideas you want to encourage participants to come up with during each timed sketching iteration.

Pitch and critique (and repeat). Time to validate those ideas. First, we like to have participants share their individual ideas and critique within their own teams. Next, through this validation, teams will agree on a smaller set of shared ideas. Finally, teams will converge on a single idea that they will refine by sharing with another team.

There are lots of methods we like to use for pitching and critiquing including ritual dissent and team member swapping.

Prioritize. Now it’s time for each team to present their idea to the room. After all teams have presented, participants can identify their favorite ideas and elements, considering both potential impact for the customer and how difficult/time-consuming they are to build. This is really helpful in knowing what to spend your time refining first after the design studio.

Wrap-up. Make sure to reserve some time at the end to hear what worked and what didn’t during your design studio. Capture feedback now when it’s fresh in your participants’ minds.

After the Studio

At the end of the session, you’ll walk away with a wealth of prioritized sketches and ideas. Working from this, we align on emerging themes, and refine into concepts that we can test in our Lab with real customers.


Remember too that you can iterate on the process itself. We’re always discovering new and improved ways to empathize with customers or execute a pitch and critique process. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new formats and see what works best for you!

Get in touch if you’re interested in attending or running an MCD design studio with us. (We’ve got some really fun icebreakers you won’t want to miss!)

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