In July I facilitated a two-day Design Thinking Camp tailored to UX designers. During these two days, the teams worked on a design challenge to support informal learning in large organizations. The goal of the workshop was to explore new or not so well-known design (thinking) methods. Our DT coach Thomas Thome brought in “Collaborative Sketching” which can be seen as a visual variation of the 6-3-5 brain writing method. We applied the method between “ideation” as a first step towards “prototyping”.


Figure 1: The team during a Collaborative Sketching exercise

Overview of how it works:

  • Everyone gets a sheet of paper (DIN A4/letter size) and a pen. The pen should be the same type and color. The ideal team size is roughly 4-7 people.
  • Discuss what should be sketched: everyone sketches a different idea (for idea creation) or everyone sketches the same idea (for enriching an idea with details), depending on how far the teams are in the process.
  • Now everyone has only one minute to sketch. The moderator takes care of tight timekeeping.
  • After one minute everyone hands their sketch over to the next person.
  • Everyone has one minute to understand what is there and add on to the sketch.
  • Circulate each sketch until everyone has contributed.
  • Present and discuss the outcome in the group.

How did it work for us?

One of the teams had the idea to support informal learning through a combination of context-aware, digital posters and a smart watch which knows about user preferences and learning needs. They decided that half of the team would start with the poster, the others with the watch and then circulate the sketch. It turned out that in the first round people were only able to draw the “framework” (i.e. the poster and the watch).


Figure 2: First round – sketching the smart watch.

The tricky part started in round 2 since they were forced to think about the content of the poster/watch which the team didn’t talk about before the sketching session. So everyone was forced to jot down their own ideas.


Figure 3: Second round – what kind of content should be shown and how?

With each round the sketches were enriched with more details. After the last round each person presented their final outcome to the group: with all the details that the participants added to the picture as well as their interpretation of what was there. The teammates filled in the blanks when they had drawn ideas that were not yet presented or misunderstood. Misinterpretation is a desired source of additional ideas. The team came to the conclusion that their vision was not very different from each other and that they’d collected a good number of additional ideas through this method.


Figure 4: Final outcome – a collaborative sketched vision of the informal learning experience

A different team was able to run two sessions and follow up on different ideas: one idea around creating a comfortable space dedicated to learning, and one around motivating people to share knowledge (see Figure 5).CollabSketch_Fig5

Figure 5: Collaborative sketches

Why is Collaborative Sketching useful? 

  • It helps to defer judgment. The method forces everyone to quickly understand and constructively build on the ideas of others.
  • It dissolves personal ownership. By using the same pen individual contributions cannot be tracked back, especially important in groups of people with different levels in the organizational hierarchy.
  • It fosters contribution and buy-in. Each individual contributed to the common idea and will most likely be able to recognize design elements during the later process. It feels like everyone had a tangible and directly visible “voice” in the final design.

Pitfalls of Collaborative Sketching:

The method is not suitable for creating a large quantity of different ideas but rather building on existing ideas and creatively adding details. Also, if the “scope” for the session is too undefined it could help the team to collaboratively frame a brainstorming question before sketching.

Variations of the method:

  • Everyone sketches on the same (large) sheet of paper to create a common vision of the product or experience:
  • Instead of using this method between the ideation and prototyping phases, it can also be used in later phases of the design process, for example to specify the details of a user interface design.

 My Take-away:

As a general impression I have to say that this method worked remarkably well. The teams had fun and felt that the outcome was really tangible. To sum up, this indeed turned out to be an excellent starting point for prototyping.




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  • Thomas Thome   3 years ago

    I can only agree to Anja’s explanation and encourage everyone to try it out. Albert Einstein said: “Insanity is, doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results.” We need to explore Methods that trigger different parts of our brains in order to get to new and unexpected results.
    I know we are sometimes hesitant to apply new Methods in our daily work, because we don’t know the outcome yet or we feel uncomfortable. It sounds obvious, but just do it! Go and try it out, judge later. You will be astonished about the results.