What We've Learned About Innovating Effectively Online
Before the current pandemic began, I flew a lot to lead in-person design thinking and service design sessions. But suddenly last March those in-person sessions stopped, and the OG team and I had to explore an important design question: how might we continue to innovate in an online-only environment?
What Matters in Digital Design
This summer, O'Briant Group was honored to be hired by one of the world's most successful and innovative companies to reimagine their in-person design labs. We completely rethought the programming, focused on optimizing for the advantages online experiences have to offer. As we built out a facilitator guide, Sprint plan, and communication materials for before and after the Sprint itself, a few key points stood out:
1. Digital spaces optimize for different experiences than in-person ones, but there are advantages to them. Digital environments give people time to reflect quietly (great for introvert-leaning folks) and engage visually with the material. You won't get the group energy of a crowd, but you might unleash some unexpected creative juices nonetheless.
2. A great digital whiteboard makes all the difference. For the Sprint redesign, we developed a series of MURAL whiteboards, which are easy to create, customize, and templatize. Pro tip: set up a separate "Intro to MURAL" session before your session. Design a lightweight collaborative assignment in a digital whiteboard to help participants get comfortable with the format.
3. Visual coherence matters. An in-person audience will be focused on the lead facilitator, but an online audience is mostly looking at a screen. Take the time to build polished decks and MURAL templates that look like they belong together, branded with your organizations's materials and colors. The visual harmony will make you look professional and prepared, and help your team stay focused on the work.
4. Time is different online. All-day design sessions can be incredibly fun and stimulating, but they depend on the energy generated by an in-person group. Long sessions online can be tiring and drain creativity. We broke up our Sprint into a series of daily 90-minute sessions, which allowed participants to think about the challenge and come back fresh each day. Plus, you can design a Sprint so that some information is shared asynchronously, leaving session time for collaborative work.
5. Artifact-gathering and knowledge management are easier. If you've ever taken photographs of masses of sticky notes in an effort to capture the team's great ideas, you'll love digital whiteboards. They're easy to organize and save.
If your organization needs help taking your innovation work online, don't hesitate to reach out to us. We're always happy to chat.