A learn-by-doing community for creative professionals.



What Is a Studio Project?

A place to practice, A safe environment, A real case study, One-on-one coaching, and accelerated insights.

Research, Synthesis, Insights, Strategy and Great Ideas. It’s something we’re all asked to do nearly every day at our jobs. At The Design Gym, we’ve been teaching the design thinking process to companies and individuals for more than 2 years…and we’ve found that 2-hour workshops and one-day bootcamps are fun, inspirational and transformative…but that people still can struggle with taking this way of working back to their daily job. We’ve been experimenting for the last year and a half with various formats and ways of engaging people with this empathic and dynamic way of innovating. The Studio project is our best way of getting people to work through the design thinking process in real time with a real challenge. Over the course of 5-8 sessions, we take a cohort of professionals from research to insights and from insights to solutions.

The next Studio Project is coming up in July…sign up here!

We are committed to enrolling unique and fascinating companies for these projects. We’ve had the pleasure of working with some pretty diverse challenges – from rethinking lunch with Applegate to rethinking social networks with Mozilla! The results, both from the company perspective and the student perspective, have been really exciting!


Student Perspectives: Real world practice and experience


jessica“I’m excited about applying the [design thinking] process to a real project. It’s tough to get that sort of practice when you’re not doing it in your daily job”

Jessica Martin, Innovation associate






“I was always really craving to do it, as opposed to just learn about it… a 2-hour class where we just have some fun with sticky notes!

I love that we’re really working with a client and we get to try to really solve a real-world problem”

Sally Hall, Development Officer



Client Perspectives: Real Time Open Innovation

From the perspective of our clients, The Studio Project looks and feels like real-time, open innovation.


Applegate is constantly looking for ways to connect with consumers, to both learn and to educate. The opportunity to access a diverse, unbiased group of motivated thinkers was irresistible.  The result of our partnership with The Design Gym was clear and unexpected insights from real people that were thoughtfully distilled into concise ideas and actions.

As our consumers continue to inspire us, innovation will remain a primary goal at Applegate and we look forward to collaborating with The Design Gym again.

Tiffany Gale, Digital and Social Media Manager

Applegate, Studio Project Client, Winter 2014

Download the Applegate Studio Project Case Study Here

The Design Gym process allowed us to better understand our problem and users, while leading us to many awesome ideas and solutions. Besides being a fun and extremely valuable workshop, I met a wonderful group of enthusiastic and smart people. I definitely recommend a collaboration with The Design Gym and their team of “solvers” on your next project!

Holly Habstritt, UX Lead

Mozilla, Studio Project Client, Winter 2012

Download the Mozilla Studio Project Case Study Here


If you spend more time with your staff than you do with your customers, if you enjoy feeling naked (Watch at minute 2!) in front of people…you’ll enjoy being the company challenge at the center of The Studio Project.

The next Studio Project is coming up in July…sign up here!


Visual Thinking Resources

Visual Thinking, as you all know, makes you an automatic Ninja. Being able to express your ideas visually makes them more impactful, and more memorable. It’s worth getting better at! That’s one of the reasons we have a Visual Thinking Happy Hour each month, and it’s always fun…but we wanted to make it easy for anyone to recreate the experience anytime, anywhere. We’ve taken what we’ve learned from these sessions and turned them into a sweet, sweet deck of large-format cards for you to play with.

Download the Visual Workpack PDF for $5

Some great resources on the value of doodling and sketching can be found here, in an Ignite talk given by Sunni Brown. It’s only five minutes and totally awesome.

If you want to know the basics, the DNA of drawing, take a gander at Sunni’s Visual Alphabet, here.

Another take is here, from Sunni’s collaborator Dave Gray. It’s really visual AND conceptual…and kinematic! So it’s awesome, basically. At 6:55, Dave discusses some of the finer points of perspective, including why axonometric perspective is awesome.

Some books that are awesome about sketching and visual thinking that I really love:

See What I Mean: How to Use Comics to Communicate Ideas
by Kevin Cheng

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art
by Scott McCloud

The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures
by Dan Roam

Sketching is a muscle that gets stronger the more you use it. And just like any skill, it’s highly personal and individual. Getting good at a few basic shapes and items can go a long way to helping you express your ideas quickly to others…and yourself! And see for yourself (here) how simple pictures can tell a great story.

Take a look at this video about rapid sketching…and clothespin man!

Don’t forget: If you don’t write it down (or draw it) it didn’t happen.


Design Thinking Bootcamp

The Design Gym is a community at the intersection of learning and creative problem solving. We bring together classes of diverse professionals to work on projects of aspirational organizations – learning by doing. We recently did one focused on airbnb, because we think it’s a pretty rad company, and our students were pumped to work on their problem for a day.

One day, a doctor, an ad executive, and a design student go out to lunch together to learn about the state of hospitality (no…seriously). This is how it goes down over the course of a full-day:



Each team refined their insights, sourced from their interviews and issues maps, pushed through prototypes, storyboards and iterative testing over the course of the afternoon. Each team presented a vision for AirBnB going forward:

– Air Home & Hood – an online service that allows home renters and buyers to test out a neighborhood or city before fully committing to making the move. It’s complete with a neighborhood guide matching system.

– AirBnB KEY – an iPhone app that unlocks the world. Just grab your keys, wallet, and phone, and go. Through a new hardware device, users can unlock their Airbnb rentals conveniently, and through partnerships are able to easily access rental services and currency exchanges.

– Airbnb +plus – An add on service that allows users to supplement their home rental with services such as cleaning, local guides, recreational equipment, and even a weekend pet.

– Airbnb Experiences – People search endlessly to get an authentic experience or have a serendipitous encounter with locals – why not make that easier? Airbnb experiences connects travelers with local communities and people to break bread, explore the town, and build empathy far beyond the normal travel book’s recommendations.

Always Be Capturing

If you’ve wanted to run your own design sprint, you can always hire The Design Gym…but frankly you can do it yourself if you have enough Creative Confidence!

There are lots of great resources on the web, but DesignStaff.org from Google ventures has some great stuff. This article is about how to keep your meetings moving forward by keeping them visual. If you want to get some practice before you try it out, we have a class on Visual Recording coming up in March. Some critical points:

1. If you don’t write it down, it didn’t happen. Don’t trust yourself or your team to remember your great ideas. Write them on a post-it, a whiteboard or take pictures with your phone and have a shared folder

2. Appoint a facilitator: having someone who’s *job* it is to do the pre- and post-meeting work to collect and arrange some of these team-shared resources and agendas is essential

3. War Rooms: If you can, maintain a project room. This can allow some visual memory from meeting to meeting, instead of having to erase everything. Substitures are shared asana lists, trello boards or straight up google docs.

If you need other things to “always be” doing, besides closing, read Danny Meyers’ book Setting the Table. He talks about always “collecting dots” and “connecting dots”, a great metaphor for developing a designer’s mindset.

Cosby Sweaters and Constraints

I just reread a long and fascinating article about Bill Cosby’s sweaters…and it made me realize just how many choices and constraints can go into every design decision.cosby

First, there was the personal constraints:

They quickly realized that Cosby, and by extension Dr. Huxtable, couldn’t really be at ease wearing a suit around the house. “Bill basically likes to be comfortable, and in his real life, he’s in his sweats or his PJs,” says Lemire.

Avoiding straitlaced, white-collar attire also made Dr. Huxtable a more dynamic character. “I wanted to get away from the white coat all the time,” says Cosby, “or the blue blazer look, with the khaki pants and the penny loafers.” In contrast, Dr. Huxtable’s sweaters infused the show with a contagious, creative energy.


Then there were technical constraints:

The available camera technology meant that certain patterns and textures had to be carefully avoided. “The show was shot with multi-cameras,” says Lemire, “and back then they had a lot of problems with strobing, so it was very difficult to use certain patterns.” The stockinette stitch, a standard on most sweaters, alternates rows of knitted and purled stitches, which results in a subtle ribbing or stripe effect. The cameras used for “The Cosby Show” made even solid-colored stockinette sweaters vibrate or strobe when onscreen.

And then, more technical constraints:

…the show often relied on close-up shots of Cosby to capture such moments of improvised humor. However, tight shots like these caused problems when matching the scenes from two different takes, as a slight difference in costume positioning would become a glaring mistake.

“Usually you don’t do close-ups on TV, and that’s why we started using sweaters,” says Lemire. “As our bodies move around, the clothes are going to shift between the first and second take. If you have a jacket on, and the shirt collar’s in one spot, it’s going to slide off a little on one side or the other, or it might do something else that didn’t match. Sandrich was a real stickler for things matching, so we just did the sweater thing. I actually sewed his shirts to the sweaters so that nothing moved.”


Really, it made me think of my favorite Eames video. Then again, many things do:



What’s important and awesome about this video is that Eames is awesome. And Funny. Many of his answers are simply “No” or “I wouldn’t” (insert laughing!)

Listen in, about three minutes, when he is asked about constraints.

Q: “Does the creation of Design admit constraint?”

A: “Design depends largely on constraints.”

Q: “What constraints?”

A: “The sum of all constraints. Here is one of the few effective keys to the Design problem: the ability of the Designer to recognize as many of the constraints as possible; his willingness and enthusiasm for working within these constraints. Constraints of price, of size, of strength, of balance, of surface, of time, and so forth. Each problem has its own peculiar list.”

Q: “Does Design obey laws?”

A: “Aren’t constraints enough?”

Constraints are what I would call Step Zero of Doing Design. Eames said that the mark of a designer is their willingness to accept constraints, and to design with them. The producers of the Cosby Show had a lot of constraints to deal with…but instead of working against them, they worked with them, and created a memorable impression on us all!

Sketching across the process

CartoonistSketching is a muscle that gets stronger the more you use it. And just like any skill, it’s highly personal and individual. Getting good at a few basic shapes and items can go a long way to helping you express your ideas quickly to others…and yourself! Remember, if you don’t write your ideas down, it’s like it never happened!









Take a look at this video from Luxr, about rapid sketching…and clothespin man!


Also note: Dan Roam is a great source for these skills. Buy his book! And see for yourself (here) how simple pictures can tell a great story.