January 2, 2018

How To Run a Design Studio Remotely with MURAL

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Overall view of activity in the Mission Operations Control Room in the Mission Control Center, Building 30, on the first day of the Apollo 10 lunar orbit mission. Credit: NASA

*This article focuses on Design Studio workshops, not to be confused with a Design Studio agency (but both equally important!).

What is a Design Studio?

A Design Studio helps us visually articulate how our product features and ideas will look and behave.

Collaborative sketching exercise (not drawing!), made for cross-functional teams, which:

  • Builds on our broad hypotheses
  • Uncovers solutions to our hypotheses
  • Identifies our first MVP target test

1. Design Studio Pre-Workshop Checklist

Before you start there’s a few house cleaning items to get sorted.


This workshop will be held remotely and requires the following hardware/software to work. If anyone on your team is unable to meet these requirements, have them contact the studio host to see if they can resolve the issue before the session begins.

  • Internet Connection
  • Webcam (laptop or desktop preferred)
           • Bonus! Large monitor or two
           • Printer (optional)
  • Zoom (Free video conference app)
           • Download, Install, and run the setup test
  • MURAL (virtual whiteboard app)
           • Login and setup profile
           • WATCH: How to add content (2m video)
           • Add a GIF over your profile image (to show you know how to add content :P)


Spoiler Alert: We’ll be putting our mobile devices away and getting our hands on some primitive tools during this session. Prepare yourself for some separation anxiety.

  • Printer Paper, the white stuff, 8.5x11 is good.
  • Print several copies of This Template
  • Black felt-tip pen (This one’s good)
  • Block out your work calendar for 2.5 hours the day of the session
  • Turn on “Do Not Disturb” for Slack


If time allows, please look over these materials ahead of our upcoming session to refresh yourself with the content.

2. Review Validation Board Summary

This contains your assumptions, problem statement and hypotheses.

Problem Statement

This is informed by your insights driven research and structured in the following way;

We have observed that [product/service/organization] isn’t meeting [these goals/needs], which is causing [this adverse effect]. How might we improve so that our [product/service/team/organization] is more successful based on [these measurable criteria]?


Your hypotheses is prioritized by what’s the most important (ROI for your business) and or riskiest one (Could detrimentally affect your business if not resolved quickly and or executed properly.)

Screen Shot 2017-12-22 at 2.10.20 PM.png
Source: 18f

3. Set Guidelines

Define clear roles and responsibilities

Within your group you're going to have a facilitator, scribe, and general team contributors. Typically your facilitator is the lead designer and or head researcher. You scribe is generally a volunteer from the team.

  • Facilitator Responsible for guiding the team through each step in the workshop and answering questions about the process.
  • Team A cross-functional team comprised of, at minimum, representatives from the 3 legs of the stool and key areas of the business.
  • Scribe Assists the Facilitator with gathering input from the team during our session and capturing/posting key notes.

*Keep in mind a scribe will have to do two jobs, contribute and chronicle, so make sure he or she is aware of this.


Members of the design studio are ready to begin, but before they do they’re required to follow a few rules both for their and the team’s benefit.

  • Mute Distractions Avoid devices, Slack, email, etc.
  • Cameras On This should feel like we’re all in the same room
  • Have Fun Y’all are aiming at the same goal—not perfection

Step 1: Ideation

(Working alone together)

The first thing you’ll need to do is go back to our business problem statement, broad hypotheses, personas, reference materials, old ideas, etc., and begin to brainstorm a list of ideas/concepts/drivers that will fuel solution sketches. Give everyone 10 minutes to review these materials and take notes on the MURAL board.

Gather the building blocks for your solution sketches.

  • Reference existing research and project materials
  • Take notes on things that stand out to you
  • Notes can take the form of words, drawings, or found imagery
  • These notes will help inform your solution sketches (coming up next)

Step 1b: Ideation examples

Ideas can take the form of just about anything, including words, drawings, or found imagery.

  • Words Keywords, quotes, phrases, notes
  • Drawings Doodles, diagram/workflow sketch, symbols
  • Pictures Found image references such as photos or screenshots
Step 1c: Start Ideating!

Instruct your team to go to the MURAL board and start adding their ideas.

Set the timer for 10 minutes, giving them a 1 minute warning as time winds down.


At this point you will have gathered a list of ideas in various forms that will directly inform the next step “Solution Sketching”

Step 2: Solution Sketching (1 of 2)

Before we get started this is a good time to ease everyone’s fears. The fear of “I can’t draw.” Here’s the thing, any interface that exists today can be drawn with three simple shapes: A square, circle, and triangle. Ground your team in this idea.

Step 2A: Solution Sketching (1 of 2) — Prep Sketching

Now that everyone has their ideas flowing, they’re going to convert those ideas into solutions using an exercise called “6-Up’s”. Everyone should pull out their printed 6-Up template and arm themselves with a black felt-tip pen. You will give them 1 minute per block to quickly sketch a product concept that solves for the first hypotheses you’ve chosen and or prioritized.

Start with a “6-Up”

  • Focus on a single hypotheses
  • Must be solving for at least one user persona or proto-persona
  • Solution could be in the form of a UI/Workflow/Messaging, but should be product focused
  • Works best when you sketch several variations of the same idea
  • Quantity over quality

Step 2B: Solution Sketching (1 of 2) — Start Sketching!

Now that the team has gone through the prep work and understands the necessary output you’ll want to instruct them to get started. Using the printed 6-Up template and their black felt-tip pen, the team is going to set the timer for a total of 6 minutes, one minute per box.

Step 2C: Solution Sketching (1 of 2) — Gather Sketches

For the next five minutes you’re going to go around and grab screenshots of everyone’s 6-Up sketches and post them to the MURAL board before you move on. Once their sketches have been handed off feel free to give them a two minute break and have everyone meet back again for the next exercise.

Step 2D: Discuss Sketches

Using MURAL, you’re now going to start from the top and each person in the room is going to take just a few minutes to walk the rest of the team through their sketches.

  • PRESENTER Explain how each solution helps solve your persona’s problem
  • This is not a pitch! The goal is not to sell your concepts. Just have them explain their thinking so the rest of the team can understand and take notes
  • TEAM Help clarify what you don’t understand by asking “How does this help solve Persona X’s problem?”

Option 1

Step 2E: Critique Sketches

Time-box each person to 3 minutes max. Your Scribe will be taking notes as each person is presenting their sketches and we’ll be adding these to the board as “highlights” to review before our next step.

Option 2

Step 2E: Vote Anonymously on Sketches

Now that you have all of the solution sketches on the board, you’ll take 10 minutes together (but alone) to review each other's sketches and place small dots (dot voting), using the anonymous MURAL voting feature, on the areas of the sketch that you like, find interesting or are more curious about. This is a silent exercise. You’ll talk about the sketches next.

Break (10 minutes)

Allow the Scribe to continue posting notes to the MURAL board while the team takes a short break.

Step 3: Synthesize Feedback — Prep

(The Art of Stealing)

Before we jump into our next (and final) round of sketching, let’s take a few minutes to review what we’ve heard so far from our critiques and or vote tallies. We’ll be using this feedback and or votes to inform our next sketch.

  • Pick one of your six ideas to refine/expand (the one you think has the most merit)
  • Focus on one hypotheses you previously worked on, for at least one persona
  • Consider the specific feedback on your sketches
  • Include anything from the “Highlights” column (from all sketches) that makes sense for your sketch

Step 3A: Synthesize Feedback — Start Synthesizing!

Everyone goes to the MURAL board to review the notes the Scribe has posted. The team can take their own personal notes to gather their “plan” for the next round of sketching. This should take no more than 5 minutes.

Step 4: Solution Sketching (2 of 2) Prep Sketching

Taking everything you’ve done up to this point, each team member is going to spend a total of 10 minutes sketching one singular solution. This sketch will be more detailed and build upon what they’ve already started. This is not the time to introduce new ideas.

  • Pick one of your six ideas to refine/expand (the one you think has the most merit)
  • You’re still focusing on the same hypotheses statement from your previous sketches
  • Sketches should be presented in a storyboard format (3-6 panels)
  • Sketches should be self-explanatory!
  • Words matter. Use real brand/marketing copy instead of squiggly lines and jibber jabber

UX sketches by Dan Defenbaugh

Step 4A: Solution Sketching (2 of 2) Start Sketching!

Using another blank 6-Up template and your black felt-tip pen, start sketching your refined solution sketch in a storyboard format, using separate boxes to show each step of your proposed solution.

Step 4B: Solution Sketching (2 of 2) Gather Sketches

For the next few minutes you’re going to go around and grab screenshots of everyone’s final sketches and post them to the MURAL board for a final review and voting session. Once each team member’s sketch has been handed off feel free to take a 2 minute break, with everyone meeting backup to wrap-up

Step 4C: Solution Sketching (2 of 2) Discuss

You’re going to time-box each person to 2 minutes max. Your Scribe will be taking notes as each person is presenting their sketches for reference later. This should take no longer than 10 minutes.

Step 4D: Solution Sketching (2 of 2) Voting

Start thinking about the 3 solutions/parts of solutions that you want to vote for. You’re all going to use the “round stickies” in the MURAL voting session as our votes. Instruct the team when you’ve started the “Voting Session” in MURAL. Voting should take no longer than 3 minutes from start to finish.

Step 4E: Solution Sketching (2 of 2) Review Votes

Let’s take a look at the votes and see what the results were.

Step 5: Next Steps

What have we accomplished?

  • Identified the solution we want to test first
  • Generated a backlog of ideas to test and In/Validate
  • Worked collaboratively to produce results fast

What’s Next?

  • Produce a rapid click-thru prototype of the chosen solution sketch
  • Compile and share the backlog of solutions generated today

Author Bios

Jeremy Brady, Director of Product Design and User Experience at O'Reilly Media

When he's not building, mentoring, and growing from the ground up, a world-class distributed experience design team, you can find him in that number in his adopted hometown of New Orleans.

James Touhey, Senior Experience Designer at O'Reilly Media

A true believer in research and process-driven design that's working towards creating a major digital transformation at O'Reilly from his home office in San Diego.

A Special Thank You

We’d like to give a special thank you to Jeff Gothelf, author of the book Lean UX. His teachings, especially those on Design Studios, are instrumental in informing the way we conduct Design Studios here at O'Reilly Media.

Further Reading

Interested to find out more about Design Studios and or Design Thinking? Activate a free Safari Books Online trial.

Jeremy Brady

Jeremy is currently the Creative Director at GitHub. Previously: Director of Product Design and User Experience at O'Reilly Media.

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