Diversity in Ideation

Designing your one-hour-long virtual meeting.

A lot has changed from when sharing an idea either meant a physical gathering or a piece of paper taking a round trip. But, over time, we’ve managed to take a quick turn into adopting phone calls, soon followed by emails and video calls.

However, the urge to physically be present somewhere to communicate stuck, right up until the moment where it wasn’t possible anymore. The pandemic has challenged us all to rethink how we work together and stay productive. At Automattic, despite the fact that there are 1,703 Automatticians in 88 countries who speak 109 different languages, communicating asynchronously for 18 years, it still can be a challenge. 

How we roll at Automattic

Automattic is the company behind, Tumblr, WooCommerce, and other great products and platforms designed to help make the web a better place. We’re committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion, and our shared goal is to democratize publishing and commerce so that anyone with a story can tell it, and anyone with a product can sell it, regardless of income, gender, politics, language, or where they live in the world.

We care about ideas, we value open dialogue, we want all team members to feel welcomed, valued, and heard, and we do not marry ideation with specific roles. We believe good ideas can come from anywhere. Communication is our oxygen, and we communicate frequently. 

While we prefer asynchronous over synchronous communication, it shouldn’t mean we don’t appreciate calls. Still, Zoom fatigue is real, and we always put in a little extra effort to choose our sync meetings wisely.

So, how do we make the most out of a call to ensure that everyone’s time is well spent?

Divergent thinking with diversity

While it may seem enough just to gather people and brainstorm ideas, casual meetings can end up being unproductive with the risk of not providing enough room for all participants to contribute fully.

As designers, we have the responsibility and the opportunity to design our meetings to make the most out of them. Well-run and effective meetings require planning: from the objectives and desired outcomes, to considering who needs to be there and what they might bring to the table, to selecting the right collaboration tools to help with the format.

Semiha Koçer and I recently organized a workshop for the design of our new Professional Email solution’s landing page. Contributors from design, marketing, content, engineering, customer support, and product joined forces with the goal of having a shared, and enjoyable experience in identifying both opportunities and the pitfalls for our first iteration. We also hoped to create a bond and a shared understanding of the challenges at hand. Ideas brainstormed upfront provided many design opportunities, leaving action items and a lot of diverse ideas to move forward with.

The design workshop allowed us to hear from different perspectives, enabling all participants to contribute to the design process. It provided transparency while allowing us to extend our design thinking and design with our partners and users, not in solitude.

Having diverse disciplines come together to pore over insights, analytics, aspirations, and outcomes in a carefully structured meeting positioned us to start the next round of design from a better place.

Design your next meeting

Below is an example format for you to try at your next meeting.

Introduction: Participants and format (5 minutes)

It is always worth doing a quick round of introductions. It helps build up to the shared experience. Follow this with an explanation of the format, and explain what to expect from this meeting by providing an overview.

Analysis: Current situation (8 minutes)

Each participant writes statements in two buckets—“What’s working” and “What’s not working”—from their POVs, using any collaborative tool. (Easy retro, Stickies, Mural)

Writing problem statements (5 minutes)

Looking at the outcome of this initial assessment, and choosing from “what’s not working” statements, participants write down problem statements.

Voting problem statements (2 minutes)

Attendees vote on the statements to see which ones they collectively agree on the most.

Quick sketching (15 minutes)

Each participant takes 15 minutes to explore several quick sketches that can be seen as interface moments to elaborate their ideas that could solve the dilemmas highlighted in the problem statements.

Original sketch by Donna Cavalier from the workshop.
Presenting sketches, and discussion (28 minutes)

Participants take time to walk others through their sketches and ideas, where participants can ask questions and further discuss.

Asynchronous: Converging and re-sharing (Anytime)

Once the meeting is over, the outcome can be shared asynchronously, and the participants can take another round to converge from what’s been shared and re-share their final ideas.

“Great ideas can come from anywhere. There are no titles around an idea.”

Steve Stoute
Former Music Executive and Author

While there are many benefits to planning your meetings, the real value for the designer comes from not designing in isolation. Communication is oxygen, and the more we exchange ideas and work together as a diverse group, the fewer chances we’ll have for missing out on essential insights that can pave the way for successful designs.

By Saygun Erkaraman