The Design Gym’s Collaborative Design Activities for Remote Teams

BY: Erin Lamberty + Kelsye Gould

Throughout the years, we’ve seen design thinking evolve in many ways. Having moved beyond product teams, design thinking is also showing up in marketing teams striving to better understand their customer’s motivations and needs, in HR and Learning & Development teams that are thinking about employee experience, and in sales teams looking to be more empathetic and creative.

But, across all of these evolving scenarios, one thing we consistently see is that teams are becoming more distributed—across various locations and frequently not even in physical offices. Because of this, we often get asked how design thinking activities can be facilitated and used remotely with teams. At the same time, we’ve also been experimenting with ways of collaborating virtually, as many of our teammates are often traveling with our clients or working from home. This entire post was actually created, worked on and edited remotely!

TDGer’s and remote collaboration extraordinaire’s Erin Lamberty and Kelsye Gould working on this blog post from Boulder, Colorado, and Brooklyn, New York.

To help remote teams out, we’ve turned some of our favorite and most useful design thinking activities into shareable templates that you can copy and use. We’ve included Team Persona Board, Journey Map, and Solo + Group Ideation. And in this post, we’ll walk you through how to use each of them.

Now, one important note, before we get started: these templates were built in Google Drive because many of our clients and collaborators use that as their digital platform for collaborative work. But, if Google’s not your org’s MO, you can copy and convert to whatever platform works best for you and your team. Leverage the digital tools that you’ve already got in use for communicating and collaborating (pro facilitator tip: it’s much easier to get your team to adopt a new activity when all you have to worry about is the activity 😉).

Without further ado, let’s dive in.

Team Persona Board

The Team Persona Board is a framework for capturing essential information and insights about the people on your team. It reframes one of the classic design thinking tools, the Customer Persona, by turning the focus inward to your collaborators. The Team Persona Board is a great tool to quickly get to know your teammates, better understand each other’s working style and acknowledge what each person brings to the group.

Consider this tool when you need to:

Start a new project.

Work with new teammates.

Assess any gaps in your team’s strengths.

Check in or realign with your team.

Set-Up

Digital Template: Team Persona Board Template

Time: 30-60 mins

Team: 1 Facilitator, Collaborators

Virtual Facilitation Tips

Before your group gathers digitally, make sure your template is set up and there is at least one page per person.

During your meeting, give people 10-15 minutes to complete their boards silently. (If you’re short on time, the Team Persona Board also works great as pre-work that everyone completes before your digital gathering). Then have each person share out their boards in 2 minutes or less with the larger team. Once everyone has shared, ask the team to reflect on what they learned: What are your strengths and tendencies as a group? What gaps do you need to fill? What do you need in order to work together effectively?

After the meeting, make sure everyone has access to the completed boards so you can refer back to them as you continue to work together.

For more on Team Persona Boards, check out our post on The Difference Between Employee Empathy and Customer Empathy.

Journey Map

A Journey Map is a framework that structures your research data from interviews, field visits and other qualitative activities into a sequential view of an experience from the customer’s perspective. By understanding the activities, emotions, high points and pain points they encounter along the way, you’ll be able to identify opportunities for improvement and innovation. Mapping an experience this way allows your team to separate your own opinions and assumptions and focus objectively on the customer experience.

Consider this tool when you need to:

Involve stakeholders in the design process.

Break-down a complex experience into smaller, specific moments to improve.

Create an artifact that you can carry with you throughout the project.

Set-Up

Digital Template: Journey Map Template

Time: 60+ mins

When completing a journey map virtually, you may need a few meetings to get the complete journey captured.

Team: 1 Facilitator, 2-4 Collaborators

Virtual Facilitation Tips

Before your group gathers digitally, make sure your template is set up with the appropriate phases of the customer’s journey. We like the Five E’s: Entice, Enter, Engage, Exit, and Extend.

During your meeting, go through each phase of the journey and use your research notes to identify key activities that the person completes, interesting/important quotes and their emotional states. Play around with color-coding your journey map data so that, for instance, all pain points are red, high points are green and neutral points are yellow. Once all the objective data has been populated, you can begin to identify the needs that each person has at each phase.

After the meeting, document and share the completed journey map with any relevant stakeholders or teammates who will be designing for the pain-points discovered during the Journey Mapping process.

Solo + Group Ideation

When brainstorming new ideas, it’s important to set aside time for both solo and group ideation. Solo ideation ensures that everyone’s ideas are heard equally, while group ideation allows the team to build on each other’s ideas.

Consider this tool when you need to:

Generate a lot of ideas quickly.

Manage difficult or strong personalities during brainstorms.

Set-Up

Digital Template: Solo + Group Ideation Template

Time: 30-60 mins

Team: 1 Facilitator, Collaborators

Virtual Facilitation Tips

For an in-depth guide, check out our post on How to Facilitate Remote Brainstorms that Don’t Suck.

Before your group gathers digitally, make sure to communicate the scope of your challenge to the team. When you set up your template, consider creating one page for each individual’s solo ideation time, and one page for gathering all the solo ideas and building on them during group ideation. Also, decide how much detail you want people to capture for each idea: a headline, a short description, key features, a sketch?

During your meeting, give people 10-15 minutes to silently generate different ideas.  Then have the group review all of the solo ideas that were posted, build upon them and generate even more options. Depending on your group size, you can do this out loud if you’re a few people or silently if you’re a larger group. Sort and combine ideas before deciding which ones to move forward.

After the meeting, don’t let the energy die. Document and share a summary of the outcomes and any next steps with your team.


Like any form of collaborating, working with a team remotely takes a little getting used to. Our hope is for this post to be a go-to for teams looking for tools to make their digital collaboration fruitful, seamless and maybe even preferred!

We’ll continue to add additional digital templates and tools as we develop them, so check back from time to time to see what’s new! In the meantime, share in the comments how you’re using these three tools, what’s working well for you and/or any other design thinking tools you’d like to see in digital collaboration form.

The Design Gym
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