An Experiment in Creative Collaboration

Two men and a woman sitting at table

Gathering user input typically involves asking stakeholders to interact with a panel of client leaders and architects to share goals, preferences and ideas.  While well-intended, the traditional process of user meetings with fifteen of “us” and one or two of “them” can be overwhelming for stakeholders/users walking into a room with a panel of people who generally ask big questions and expect rapid responses. In our work with a client on a recent refresh project, we crafted a new model to make stakeholder interviews easier, less stressful and chaotic, more conversational, and to provide users with time to actually digest the information.

Breakout Stations

In the new format, we break down the project scope into individual stations.  A designer mans a computer monitor at each station that is loaded with color images and 3-D models to help people visualize each space.  Stakeholders move to stations at which they can talk about their current practices in the space, and we can ask them further questions to gather valuable input.  For the refresh project, there were six stations for stakeholders to visit, and we asked each person to spend between 15-45 minutes at each station.

Whether you call it speed dating or round-robin, this approach has created a positive impression of our client’s commitment to their staff and patient care, and the importance of the work the staff do on a daily basis.  In the new format, our team is equally paired with the end-user and the discussions are much more of a conversation or dialogue, where pressure is reduced and it feels less like a hot seat. The decisions they make are more memorable as they move from station to station and can connect the project’s various aspects with the design team.  Relationships are developed beyond a traditional rushed and intense group meeting.  By having decisions made upfront, there are no surprises at the time of installation.  And to top it off, we can reduce the total hours spent in meetings by 50%.

A New Way to Gather Information

While the new process was aimed to get the most out of stakeholder interactions, we also found that this approach saved both time and money. In our previous project with this same client, on a different refresh project, we had over 60 hours between two rounds of design development end-user meetings, plus travel back and forth for four-plus weeks.  Based on our new format for the most recent refresh project, we were able to consolidate those meetings to 32 hours in 4 days, thereby collecting the feedback and modifying the documents in record time.

Having a proven, efficient process during the information-gathering phase of a project is vital to overall success.  Moving forward, we will continue to test and refine this new approach to gathering stakeholder input for design projects for more reliable and predictable results.