You show me yours, I’ll show you mine

Brainstorming ideas during the speed sketching event

Speed Sketching

Well, the somewhat experimental speed sketching event we held to mark World Usability Day seems to have been a quiet success.

Some of the people there told me afterward that they went away with new ideas, and even solved some issues, as a result. That’s great – it is exactly what I had hoped for: cross-pollination of ideas; brainstorming with people from different teams or research fields; rapidly sketching interfaces and ways to visualize data. Ah, the power of communication.


There were 10 participants (plus me facilitating), and I decided to put them in pairs. As it turned out, we probably would have struggled to include more than another couple of people in the room we used. On the other hand, if there had been several more people, I probably would have grouped people in 3’s, but it would have been a squeeze.

Speed sketching group

Some of the speed sketching group in action

Everyone was provided with a paper, sketch sheets, pens and pencils as they arrived, and I arranged them at the tables I had spread around the room. I included the 1-up and 4-up sketch sheets I’ve mentioned here, earlier this year, plus a couple of my favourite workshop templates that the awesome Leah Buley provides on her website. There were Haribo sweets and Chupa Chups, too, thanks to my colleague Jenny.

Each pair had 10 minutes to discuss their work, present an issue, sketch ideas, etc. In theory one would talk about their project for 5 minutes, and gather ideas, and then switch over for the remaining 5 minutes. In practice, at the 5 minute mark, I just suggested that people switch round — the topics are often quite complex, or the subject itself may require rather more explanation than your average e-commerce site! So if people were on a roll, I just let them go.

When 10 minutes were up, I shouted. One person was asked to stay where they were, and the others were asked to move clockwise around the room. In retrospect, a whistle would have been a more effective tool. Hey, next time.

Should I stay or should I go?

Paper and pencil sketching

Illustrating ideas

To some extent, I modified the approach as I went along. For example, after one rotation (all the people moving clockwise), it was clear that the who stays / who moves thing needed a bit of clarification. To cope with that, I gave everyone either a “stay” or “move” post-it note. That worked fine, and when I shouted, everyone knew what they should do.

Another important thing that I tried to stay on top of was trying to avoid pairing people who already work together. In a speed dating environment, I assume everyone is a stranger at the start, but we can’t reproduce that when we draw participants from on campus (and all of these participants happened to be from the EBI). Some people are bound to know each other; there is cross-over between teams; some teams are quite big, anyway; there is more interest from some teams than other for this kind of thing, so they’re always better represented, and so on. As a facilitator, you have to look ahead for what might make poor pairings, and shuffle people around accordingly. Fiddly, but worthwhile.

I used the Apimac Timer application, via a projector, to keep the countdown visible, but as mentioned above, something louder than me-with-a-sore-throat would have been good to mark when time was up.

It’s a minor quibble, but at first, I was a bit bothered that the tea, coffee and biscuits provided were set up outside the meeting room. In the end, though, this was a pretty good arrangement – it meant that most people could stop and have a chat about how the session went, which was really useful. I’d chose to do that again.

That was one hour?!

One hour absolutely flew past – when you have a little introductory talk, and then break the time into 10 minute chunks and have to allow for rotation, that time goes by quickly. I think we could have filled two hours, no problem, so I might try and arrange a longer session next time.

Thanks to everyone who attended for making it a success, and to Albert Vilella (EBI) and Karyn Mégy (EBI) for originally discussing the idea of speed collaborating.


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