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Jim Kalbach

in design, design thinking,

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How To Practice Collaborative Digital Design

MURAL workshop recreated digital collaboration scenarious, challenges and solutions.

“From household products you use in your home and car to tech you wear or carry in your pocket, San Francisco is a hub of innovation like no other.” This is the premise of San Francisco Design Week—but what if some of your team isn’t located here? How do you create excellent experiences when you rely on talent that is distributed across the country or around the globe?

Successful remote collaboration relies on the efforts of each individual team member, as well as using tools that bring teams closer.

As part of SF Design Week, a series of events and studio tours centered on design in the bay area, we at MURAL developed an interactive, three-hour workshop that would meet designers on their journeys toward more effective design collaboration.

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Our goal was to mix interactive exercises with presentations to simulate virtual and remote design experiences, including:

  • Simulations of remote team configurations
  • Hands-on experience with Design Thinking methods

  • Tips to improve remote design meetings

  • Strategies to overcome remote design challenges

  • Sharing observations and insights through Q&A

 



Facilitating design conversations that reliably achieve excellent results is perhaps the most valuable 21st century skill to develop.


 

WORKSHOP DIRECTIVE

Develop comprehension and deepen competence in the facilitation of remote design through digital collaboration.

 

THE INTRODUCTION

Before we got started, we got to know the collaboration maturity of our attendees through a survey, which showed that the majority of the attendees worked remotely on a regular basis and had an intermediate to advanced knowledge of Design Thinking methods.

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As with any introduction to digital collaboration, we wanted to get attendees comfortable with the tools before diving into the core exercise. We started by preparing an introduction exercise in advance that would encourage them to share their names, the amount of remote work they did and their level of satisfaction with the quality of their remote work.

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THE MISCONCEPTIONS

For those less familiar with remote design, we compared feelings they shared to common misconceptions about remote work. For example, in the last century, we’ve moved from the industrial revolution and assembly lines to modern, distributed knowledge workers no longer tied to an office. And yet, we’re still operating under several misconceptions about remote work:

  • Many believe that remote work is a recent phenomenon resulting from the internet and mobile devices, while foundational research for telecommuting began in the 1970s

  • It’s a common misconception that working remote is a binary state—you’re either in an office OR you work remotely, but the truth is that most people operate in both.

  • Businesses tend to focus on co-location to ensure frequent collaboration, though studies show remote teams often outperform their co-located counterparts

  • The achilles heel of most teams lies in leaving remote team members to make digital collaboration work, when it’s a shared responsibility that takes practice.

While we explored the state of remote work, we invited participants to a MURAL where they could record their observations using a method called “Rose, Thorn, Bud,” which we then used to create an affinity map.

Overall, the group shared more than 40 observations that we affinitized into the following groups:

  • Social Interaction

  • Methods and Process

  • Transportation

  • Work / Life Balance

  • Personal Pros / Cons

  • Tools / Tech

  • Geography

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Workshop participants use Rose, Thorn, Bud and Affinity Clustering to map observations.

 

THE SIMULATION

Once everyone had dabbled in the tools we’d be using, we got into the heart of the workshop. The main exercise involved dividing participants to collaborate in one of three team configurations, including a split, mixed and co-located team.

Each team was required to complete two Concept Posters that would offer creative solutions to mock collaboration challenges faced by one of two design-led companies (in this case either Disney or Apple).

Here we gave them limited instructions on creating their posters, which combine two design thinking methods into one activity (Concept Poster and Alternative Worlds), to enable participants to simulate real-life circumstances and uncover strategies for improving remote collaboration.

 

THE SETUP

SPLIT TEAM SIMULATION

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The split team, which occurs when two or more large, co-located teams collaborate, is common in large companies that have established locations in multiple cities. We simulated this experience with our in-person attendees by using two conference rooms. They were divided into two groups and physically isolated, with the exception of a Zoom connection, to work together on the same challenge.

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The split team working in separate conference rooms.

 

MIXED TEAM SIMULATION

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The mixed team, which we’ve found to be the most common remote work configuration, is made up of one central, co-located team that collaborates with one or more individual remote members.

This scenario we set up by giving one group of five co-located team members an open workspace and the tools to connect with one remote attendee via Zoom and MURAL.

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The mixed team collaborating with five people together and one remote team member connecting via zoom on one device.

 

CO-LOCATED TEAM SIMULATION

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The co-located team, characterized by all members working from the same physical location, has historically been the most common type of workplace configuration. In this case, we took the balance of the participants in San Francisco and put them into one, large co-located space where they could use an 84” Surface HUB, their own devices and paper supplies.

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The co-located team collaborating with five people together and one remote team member connecting via zoom on one device.

 

THE RESULTS

In the end, two teams divided themselves into two groups to work on the two posters in parallel, while the mixed team collaborated on each poster in sequence. Finally we reunited to give everyone the chance to pitch their ideas, and we maintained the spirit of digital collaboration by launching a MURAL-based voting session.

In addition to a clear winner, everyone agreed that it takes more than time and effort to make remote collaboration work well—it also takes the right set of tools.

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All teams working concurrently within the same mural.

 

Mark Tippin

Mark Tippin

Mark Tippin has more than 25 years of experience leading creative teams and delivering high-impact solutions at scale for clients including Autodesk, Inc., All Nippon Airways and Wells Fargo Bank. He is a certified Human-Centered Design instructor with LUMA Institute and avid sketcher who lives near the San Francisco Bay Area.

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