How to run a remote-friendly co-design

6 min read Maureen Placente

Co-design is a powerful way to improve design processes in two ways: speed and quality. When your work environment allows and encourages people to work remotely in a temporary or permanent way – as we do at Optimal Workshop – we need to get creative if we want to find ways to include everyone.

After a research project, my marketing team was looking at redesigning our Enterprise landing page. We wanted to speed up our experimentation and determined that collaboration was the best approach. Ideation exercises require more than just a team of designers –  we needed to involve the right people with the right knowledge. To generate more diverse, creative and insightful outputs, we invited different personalities as well as different roles. Our team was comprised of a mix of sales, customer success, marketing, developers and designers. All located in different locations around the world, including the United States, New Zealand, France and Ireland.

To make this global session happen, we used Mural, a digital workspace for visual collaboration. It’s a great way to explore ideas in a collaborative space from anywhere with an internet connection and a laptop.

What is a co-design?

A co-design is a fast-paced workshop that generates abundant and diverse ideas beyond what just one individual can produce.

What does it involve?

A clear plan

Define the problem you want to solve, articulate user needs and any pain points you’ve identified. It’s also important to explain why this problem is something worth investigating. This preparation work will help to cut back on inefficient conversations and ensure your team and stakeholders are aligned on goals, opportunities and problem statements.

HMW (How Might We)

HMW questions are a way to frame the challenge you are trying to solve using short, compelling questions to spark creative thinking and discover solutions.

Divergence

Diverging is a quantitative process where you create as many ideas as possible by answering the HMW questions. Each member then presents their ideas while the rest of the team writes their feedback on Post Its in two ways: ‘I like’ – what you like about the solutions and ‘I wonder’ – how you might improve the solutions.

Convergence

Converging is a qualitative process. Once everyone has presented their ideas and looked over the feedback, it’s time to consolidate the best designs into one solution. After presenting their solutions, team members vote on their favorite ideas or the most compelling features by placing stickers on the ones they like. Commonly, each person should have 3 stickers.

What do you want at the end of the co-design?

Once you’ve passed through the divergent and convergent stages for your HMW questions, you’ll hopefully have some key areas of impact to focus on that are worth prototyping in the form of a wireframe or a higher fidelity design. Using this process, you should be able to develop a design that incorporates input from all disciplines and departments.

Tips for running a co-design:

Plan ahead

  • 8 people max per workshop
  • Prior to creating a calendar invite, ask who would be interested to participate via a message or in person. Allow teams to choose who will represent their team.
  • Have your low-fidelity sketching supplies ready: Post-its, markers, blank sheets etc

Setting the context and explaining the rules

  • Write a description within the calendar invite to give some context prior to the meeting. e.g “What we are working on?”, What will we do with the output?” and “What if I am busy and can’t come?”.
  • Send reminders the day before to make sure people are registered to the software you might use, specify if they need to bring anything specific(laptop, tablet, etc).
  • Adding a “What’s coming” section to the agenda helps people to stay on track.
  • Set a clear presentation to encourage creativity – inspire your team!

A timer

  • A mechanism for tracking time down to the minute is crucial for keeping track of the work achieved.
  • Schedule a good amount of time for feedback and voting.
  • Allow a 5 to 10 min break time.
  • Involve a second facilitator to help with time tracking.

How we ran a remote-friendly co-design

What worked well?

True effort  and planning

The classic paper/post-it system isn’t suitable for remote workers. Despite video conferencing, it is still hard to hear everyone or read a whiteboard. I wanted a tool that would allow me to include everyone the same way, and allow easy follow up on the achievements. This system needed to work even for people who couldn’t attend or had to leave halfway through the meeting.

Feedback received:

  • “It takes real effort to get these up and running and the use of other software to make use of the time of everyone” 
  • “I can’t imagine doing workshops in any other way in the future”

Communication with remote workers

Avoid questions like “please vote if you are okay to come in early” which makes remote workers feel bad.

Feedback received:

  • “Remote workers feel like they’re a burden in meetings, but you made us feel super included”

What could have been done differently?

Time and people management

Handling time and people is tricky, you can easily run out of time and be forced to rush through the last steps of your meeting. Don’t hesitate to ask for help facilitating the co-design.

Feedback received:

  • “More time to give feedback to everyone’s ideas would have been nice”

Remote organization

Find a way to be as inclusive as possible, like finding a remote solution for snacks and drinks.

Feedback received:

  • “Consider snacks for overseas people or let us know that we should get something to be included in that”

Tips for running a remote-friendly co-design:

A well-chosen space and time

Involving people from multiple countries or time zones requires preparation and consideration.  Don’t be afraid to ask people to arrive earlier than their standard working hours.

Collaborative tools

  • Use inclusive tools during meetings that allow everyone to follow the work being done. Also making sure that the tool makes it easy for people to come back and review the work later if they can’t attend the meeting.
  • Set up a Mural board that will replace your slide presentation. Everything should live in same place including Context, HMW, dedicated places to upload images etc.
  • Make sure everyone knows how to use all of the tools needed. It might help to start with a small exercise to help everyone get familiar with it. If there’s not enough time for it, set that exercise prior to the meeting (maybe as part of your reminder).

Manage noises

Depending on the number of participants, background music can prevent remote workers from hearing and understanding conversations.

  • Avoid background music.
  • Manage people and time to avoid banter and chit chat where possible..

Be inclusive

Make sure everyone feels like they’re part of a team rather than a burden for being remote. Allow time for questions, repetition and clarification.

  • Avoid questions that make remote workers feel bad like “please vote if you are okay to come in early”.
  • Allow time for questions, repetition and clarification.
  • If you plan some snacks and drinks, either include it in your workshop budget or let the remote workers know they can bring their own food (depending on timezone).
Maureen Placente

Maureen Placente

Maureen (Mo) is one of Optimal Workshop’s many talented designers. She loves everything to do with cheese, wine and good design.