Rapid Design Lab. It’s our name for the collaborative design process and speaks to the key elements that constitute the process: speed, creativity, and a dedicated space and time for work. We’ve been running these types of sessions for years and have dialed our process in to get the most of the time we have by working closely with our clients. Here’s how it works:

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Why RDL?

When facing a design problem, as a designer I can’t possibly know more about a client’s business than the client. They’re the experts on their business; I’m the expert on helping them create great experiences. To solve the problem, I like to work collaboratively with the client and tap into their deep understanding of their business. This allows their input and feedback to be heard immediately, while allowing any course corrections, edits, or design shifts to happen in real-time.

Consensus Building

One of the biggest benefits of the RDL is the fact that every design decision ends up being agreed upon by the group, which ultimately makes everyone accountable for the design. This is great for creating early buy-in and excitement throughout the organization, especially when the client working-group become cheerleaders/defenders of the new design and the RDL process!

Gaining Trust

More often than not, I’m are walking into a client’s office for the first time and I need to build rapport with them immediately and ensure them that they can trust us with the task in front of us. By their very nature, a RDL moves toward a solution quickly which ultimately helps solidify our position as trusted partners in the design process.

every design decision ends up being agreed upon by the group

 

What happens during a RDL?

Every RDL has a slightly different agenda dictated by how much time I have with the client, what the key objectives are, and the expected output. There are some “must-haves” for a RDL…

Set The Ground Rules & Expectations

Layout an agenda with time slots, including lunch and other breaks, and that way if things start to bog down you will have something to guide you out of the quagmire. Also outline the standard meetings rules (turn off your phones, constructive criticism, etc.) and what you expect to come out the session(s).

Break The Ice

Depending on the size of the group, find an appropriate ice-breaking exercise to help set people at ease. There are lots and lots of great ideas already out there, get your Google going.

Articulate The Problem

Find a whiteboard or something of that sort, and write down the problem you’re trying to solve. Make sure all the collaborative work is driving towards a solution to this problem, and if your group starts to drift, or the scope starts to creep you have something to bring everyone back in line.

Start Wide Then Narrow

Rather than trying to solve the edge cases or strange scenarios first, work on the most common, most painful problems first. Our experience has shown that as you create solutions for the “low-hanging fruit”, the edge cases become easier and easier to tackle once you get there.

Keep The User/Customer In Mind

Quite often the session starts by answering the “who” part of the design problem. Who’s going to use the solution? What kind of person is this user? The audience questions are often stored in the memory banks of our client’s so I usually suggest they come to RDL session(s) with any audience/persona/profile data they already have at the ready – we’ll need it!

Let Them Sketch

A big part of the RDL process is collaborative sketching where the client is given plenty of opportunity to sketch out their ideas. Clients typically don’t think they can sketch or don’t want to sketch, but I often insist on them picking up the marker and getting their ideas out on the whiteboard. This saves me from trying to guess/interpret their ideas and helps build consensus and trust (see above).

work on the most common, most painful problems first

 

When Should You RDL?

Anytime is a great time to RDL! Actually, that’s not quite right. There are times when a RDL is a much better fit.

New Concept/Product/Functionality

If a client is starting something new a RDL fits nicely into the beginning of the design process. Ideally, the RDL output takes the form of a prototype which we can then run some qualitative impression tests on to get a sense of how this new concept/product/functionality will be received.

Product Redesign

Similar to “new” stuff, the beginning of a redesign process is the best time to slot in a RDL with the option to build out a testable prototype with validated results as the logical path forward in the redesign.

there is so much non-verbal and spontaneous communication taking place during face-to-face meetings

 

Who & Where

These are really dependent on the size of the design problem and where the client is located. I could argue that every design problem needs a RDL but let’s face it some stuff is pretty obvious and doesn’t require the bandwidth of a RDL. More often than not though, I have found that almost every single one of our clients has needed some form of a RDL to get the design process started.

As far as location goes, in-person is always the preferred method simply because there is so much non-verbal and spontaneous communication taking place during face-to-face meetings that video conferencing just can’t compete.

the key elements that constitute the rapid design process: speed, creativity, and a dedicated space and time for work

 

 

Ross Anderson
Director of User Experience

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