Speed doesn’t kill: How collaborative design sessions lead to better results

Everybody is talking about being fast and agile. Every day we are challenged with new situations – at work, on the go, with new technologies, with trends, with opinions, with problems, at home, with the family, with friends, even alone. Sometimes we are able to live up the speed in our lives, sometimes we cannot keep the pace.

What does this mean for design- and brand-related challenges? Which methods and formats do we integrate to achieve better results in a shorter time? What is our take on collaboration and co-creation with clients? Why is it important to think and act across disciplines? In this article, I will pick up those and other questions and provide you some answers. Enjoy the reading!

Focusing on the big and the small things

In our fast-moving world, it is all about change. If we transfer being fast and agile into the economic context, we have to accept that steady transformation and embracing change is needed. We do not talk about messing everything up from one day to the other without consideration. Some companies were early birds and started to embrace change as an essential part of their business, other companies simply missed the train because of various reasons – sticking to inflexible structures, following false strategies for too long or underestimating worldwide trends. Just recall the decline of Nokia as a popular brand – once a global pioneer in mobile phone engineering –, vanishing from hero to zero in just a few years and being taken over by Microsoft in the end.

Companies have to play an active role in an ever-changing world, otherwise there may be a completely different situation tomorrow. And to actually take over this active role, it is crucial to face new developments with openness and curiosity. Making innovation happen is the key to success – innovation that is sustainable for the business and relevant for the people. With relevance comes value, and value comes with focusing on the things that count.

A friend of mine, Stefan Hagen, founder and head of the Vorarlberg-based business consultancy HAGEN, called my attention to an interesting concept by Gary Vaynerchuk with the title “Between the Clouds and the Dirt”. Stefan summarizes Gary’s approach this way:

  • Clouds are inspiring visions, strategies, ideas, principles and true values,
  • Dirt is the all little details, relevant knowledge, contents, experiments, feedback from the people, agile collaboration, implementation, reflection and the process of learning,
  • Between (“crap”) means bureaucratic processes, long management reports, endless meetings, extensive concepts etc. we consequently avoid.

This is a very simple but strong thought. Have a look at this video to get more insights on the Between the Clouds and the Dirt philosophy:

Between the Clouds and the Dirt: A Short Film — Gary Vaynerchuk

This concept perfectly matches my approach of doing interactive workshops and other collaborative sessions. A powerful vision serves as the starting point, and the whole team takes it as the guiding principle throughout the whole process to keep the track. The vision may slightly change or adapt, of course, but finding a consent with all the involved people is important to keep the big picture in mind. Nevertheless, I normally do not start from scratch. I consider existing principles as the foundation which is improved step by step as the outside-in perspective is shared. Maybe it helps to understand it with this picture: The team and I take a house to all its single bricks, reorganise them, and construct something new out of these solid elements, doing a smaller or larger refurb at some spots.

Enabling a change of perspectives

As ambitious builders, we do not build this new house by ourselves or alone. Architects, electricians, engineers, plumbers, carpenters, roofers and many more use their skills to make something great together. It is a massively valuable thing to bring people with various skills and experiences together at one place – to chat, to listen, to understand, to get inspired and to gain new views. This always happens with our heads, our hearts and our hands – we think, we connect and we make. We as session participants approach everything we do in a human-centred and relationship-driven manner.

Any situation between two or more persons is a certain kind of relationship. This relationship is influenced by moods and senses, experiences and opinions, expectations and statements, language and location, or even by age and time. There is an interesting analogy of this human-to-human relationship we see here: the relationship between a company and the people it wants to attract with the product or the service it offers. This collection of relationships – from the company to the people in the target audience – can easily be described as being the “brand”. And brand is nothing you can define in each single facet. It is something that develops. Put the seeds into the ground, water them regularly and in the right dose, and see how it grows and thrives.

Tapping the full potential

As a box of seeds, I use a modular workshop toolkit when working with teams. Based on the requirements, we flexibly combine various methods and tools to a tailored workshop with tight schedules – elaborating the „Clouds“ and simply doing the „Dirt“. And this is fast, effective and satisfying.

Some time ago, I was involved in the repositioning and rebranding of a larger printing house in Styria. The process was kicked off with an intense but insightful one-day co-creation session – as a brand positioning workshop – with the owners and executives of the company among the participants. In only a few hours, we did the following activities:

  • dive deeper into the characteristics and contexts of the business
  • set goals from the perspective of the company, the customers and the brand
  • collect insights through interviews with clients and employees from various departments within the company
  • refine and prioritize stakeholders and target audiences
  • describe stereotypical representatives as personas
  • understand the needs and wishes of the customer with the help of a customer journey
  • describe the company as a human being, as a personality
  • set brand attributes as future checkpoints for design decisions
  • make a short ideation sprint to think about possible measures and next steps

The most valuable fact in a setting like this is that many decision-makers are in the same room and can directly share comments and feedback with each other. In a very tight timeframe, we set the framework and the direction for a personality-driven and experience-led brand evolution! The results are shaped to be constantly tested and improved.

In another project, I was part of the team consulting one of the leading fairs in Europe for contemporary art. We saw opportunities for them to gain a more holistic and a more people-focused view at their product as an art fair. Within two half-day co-creation sessions – as experience mapping workshops – the participants did the following activities:

  • refine and prioritize stakeholders and target audiences
  • describe stereotypical representatives of the target audiences as personas
  • describe and understand the needs and emotions of fair visitors
  • discover touch points and possible pain points in the overall experience
  • visualize the visitor journey in an extensive experience map as a wallpaper
  • make ideation sprints to think about possible measures and timeframes

It was wonderful to see the participants being triggered by new views, new perspectives and new ideas. A deeper understanding of what people in the target audience actually want and need is crucial and leads to a more sustainable development of the whole product and service. Following the motto “time-boxing is king”, we put all the participants – even ourselves as hosts – under time pressure. We inspired them to do things differently.

Connecting people

In a session seeting, I see myself in the role of a facilitator who inspires and uncovers potentials together with clients, including new ways for connecting people and make value for them tangible. Within interactive sessions, the participants can be pushed to think big – being led by facilitators to bring this power and these ideas to reality.

One idea I follow during the whole process is not to create a perfect experience for everybody, but a highly pleasant experience for as many as possible. To keep the track, thoughtful planning and focusing on the the important things are essential. Just doing workshops based on intuition and improvisation might be a fun activity right in the moment, but it will not lead to the results that are worth following on a long-term basis. Get some insights on creating the user experience of creative sprints by Helene Sears in her article “The User Experience of Creative Sprints” in which she puts the essence of creative sprints in a nutshell:

“Creative sprints are a brilliant way to get a whole team thinking about great user experience and investing in making it happen, all in a matter of days.”
– Helene Sears

In conclusion, being fast and agile must not be an unmanageable challenge. It is about focus, about putting energy into relevant things and about embracing change without fear. Put the people back into your focus and create value that people want to have in their lives. See time pressure as a friend, forcing you to make innovation happen and to be successful. Let us build something great together!

This article was initially published in the EN GARDE Journal. You were reading the shortened and revised version.

Experience designer, aspiring content strategist, humanist, world citizen, traveller, mountain hiker, Cuba Libre aficionado, fairness advocate. www.ejochum

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