Design Jam

Mentoring in Design Jams: Four Tips

Mentoring a team in a Design Jam is an excellent way to sharpen your facilitation and leadership skills. This is what I learned, and techniques I tried, at CityStarters and VISA Europe’s Jam to explore the future of payments #beyondplastic.

  1. Icebreaking
  2. Time Management
  3. “Yes, and…” facilitation
  4. Task Delegation


Simple icebreaking games can seem corny, especially to our British sense of reserve. However, when done well, they can help a diverse group of strangers rapidly coalesce into a team of co-creators with a dynamic to get them through the rest of the Jam. Dave Gray’s Gamestorming Wiki is a great place to start looking for ideas.

It’s also important for the mentor to stress that each team member is different. Everyone will have a different point of reference, aptitudes and experience. The team members may also wish to practice roles and skills that are under utilised in their normal life or role. Consider steering the group in this direction as a successor activity to the icebreaking.

Summary: icebreaking requires strong facilitation and prior preparation by the mentor, but it will setup the team dynamic for the rest of the activities.

Time Management

This is essential for the group to understand and meet its milestones and to progress successfully throughout the Jam. Look for and think about:

  • whether the group identifies this as a requirement?
  • do they allocate a role of time keeper?
  • what kind of time management oversight is happening (and if it is effective)?
  • are they creating mini-milestones / chunking their time within a sprint?
  • have they factored for any contingency time?

Summary: each sprint is intense, and there can be multiple and concurrent conversations and work streams. It’s easy for the team (and for the mentor) to forget about this essential criteria for successful delivery.

“Yes, and…” facilitation

The “Yes, and…” rule is one of the core protocols of improvised theatre. It’s designed to unlock creative ideas by deliberately preventing other team members from negating the contribution of someone in the team. Rather they must accept, build-upon and extend the idea by saying “Yes, and…” prior to their contribution. Some examples:

  • engenders an acceptance based approach to new and unfamiliar ideas
  • helps defuse any ego and innate, or inherited, control assumptions brought into the Jam
  • facilitates rapid development of trust, collaboration, communication and confidence through out the team

Summary: the mentor should observe the dynamic of the group and consider introducing “Yes, and…” if there are conflicts, exclusions or a limited level of communication, listening and creativity.

Task Delegation

It’s probable that the team will need to divide or work on parallel tasks during the sprints in the Jam. Ensure that you think about the diverse mix of skills and personalities that make up the team when this happens. This might be an opportunity to steer the team (or team members) into sub-teams that complement each other in terms of skill, or in terms of their personal benefit from the Jam.


  • pairing people with diverse or complimentary attributes to help facilitate an exchange of skill and involvement in the task
  • forming smaller sub-teams so that quieter members of the group can make stronger contributions. These can then be reported back to the main team when it reforms.
  • achieving greater productivity within the time constraints and building trust within the team

It’s also important to watch for any splitting into factions that mars working toward their common objective. For example: continuing to work of parallel solutions after the idea storming phase is complete.

Summary: use the beginning of each sprint consider the team dynamic, the objectives of the team members and the task in hand. Provide guidance to the group as needed.

Find Design Jams

Johanna Kollmann used to run, and DesignJam London, but sadly this site was taken down in 2014. The only options I’m aware of are:

Let me know in the comments if this changes, or if there are more.


Here is a post-jam video summarising the experience (featuring Team Six!):

Inclusive step-free access

Step-free access on the tube

Nice example of functional requirements engineering and standardisation on a project that marries legacy infrastructure (the platform height, distance) with a new bespoke build (the new TfL S Stock trains). A usable, inclusive and delightful experience; someone, somewhere, did their job right.

Next stop: throwing technology, like gap fillers, at the “Mind the Gap” interaction kludge =).

The Researcher is Present

The Inner Judge by Tom Grillo
The Inner Judge by Tom Grillo

A nice graphic from a New York Times article — An Appeal to Our Inner Judge — about the innate ability of our unconscious mind to create bias, assumptions and profiling; particularly as applied to people.

Identifying and factoring for inherent prejudice is essential in many aspects of user experience work; perhaps when recruiting new team members, meeting new clients but especially when working with research participants.

I also like how this graphic illustrates how many cognitive activities, conscious or otherwise, are undertaken by a researcher as they facilitate experience design sessions, particularly how many variables can be brought into play during a seemingly simple one-to-one interaction like a interview, let alone something more complex like a focus group or usability test.

In both cases being aware of the unspoken influence your inner judge will positively affect your ability to reach better outcomes and decisions for your project.

Case Study: Effective UX Is Good Business

So, the corporate chieftain who once declared that “the food business is not a technology business” has spent $42 million to update Panera. “The goal is to eliminate friction points so that customers have a better experience […] because if they have a better experience, it will help our business.”

The integration and establishment of user experience design practice continues apace! A nice case study about the CEO of the Panera Bread restaurant chain ‘eating his own dog food’, reflecting on his privileged experience, and having the influence to affect changes that empower his customers.

User Centred Government, Notes

My favourite nuggets from Leisa Reichelt’s talk at HCID Open Day 2014, organised by City Interaction Lab.

Leisa was talking about about affecting good user-centred practices in large and complex organisations via her role at GDS. As usual she had lots of sensible, practical and plainly spoken advice for helping to stay focussed on collaborating to ship great experiences.


“User research closes distance”

— insightful and succinct way to remember and describe empathetic experience design practice.

“You can’t iterate away bad policy”

— you’ve got to get people and process aligned on projects.

“Every team member should observe 2 hours of user research every 6 weeks”


“At least one session of research should be planned for every two weeks of design work”

— about the idea of a minimum viable number of exposure hours[1] that are necessary to make a difference to a project team.
Also about using quantifiable targets (numbers) to positively affect behaviour, culture and processes: “it’s amazing how things just become a thing”.

“The strategy is delivery. Deliver useful stuff to teams incredibly regularly”

— a nice way to think about selling your value to people and teams by being dependable, visible, findable and just-in-time.

Further reading

  1. UIE: Fast Path to a Great UX – Increased Exposure Hours

Content Strategy, Information Architecture, Interaction Design, Accessibility