Design Jam London: Day 1

Design Jam London

50 people. 9 hours. 1 design challenge.

The first Design Jam, supported by Mozilla Labs, took place in London on Saturday, 20th of November, at City University London.

Design Jams are one or two day design sessions, during which people team up to solve engaging UX challenges. While conferences and talks are very popular in the UX community, we don’t have many events for actual collaboration, like the ‘hackdays’ enjoyed by the development community. Only a few UX designers participate in hackdays or open-source design initiatives –  how can we change this and get UX designers more involved? How can we introduce them to open collaboration formats? The idea of an event to get designers together to learn from each other while working on actual problems was born. Design Jams champion open-source thinking & sharing and are non-profit, run by local volunteers. The London team are Desigan Chinniah, Johanna Kolllmann, Joe Lanman and Franco Papeschi.

While the primary audience for Design Jams are UX designers, everybody who wants to learn with and from others about UX is welcome. The 50 people at Design Jam London were UX professionals, developers, visual designers and students, all with different levels of experience and skills.

Participants writing their cards and sticking it on the grid

Participants writing their cards and sticking it on the grid

The grid

The team grid

After forming groups facilitated by a ‘team grid’, 9 teams started tackling the design challenge. A Design Jam isn’t a competition, so all teams were given the same challenge, and encouraged to help each other, eg by grabbing a person from a different team for interviews or guerilla usability testing. Picking a suitable design problem was the hardest task for the organisers. Here it is:

What is the ideal interface to track and trace relevant online content?

Every day people consume megabytes of web content – on a myriad of internet-enabled devices from varying locations. This content is typically re-located through:

  • history
  • bookmarks

Some things to consider:

  • What are the typical cues for people to remember and retrieve online content (e.g. colour, keywords, prices, pictures, surrounding context etc.)?
  • What are the current pitfalls? Where do users have most problems?
  • How can people annotate visited content with additional information (e.g. mind-maps, tags, date/time visited, urls, search engine terms used, group around themes like going on holiday etc.)?
  • Can activity be clustered automatically (e.g. time, location, people etc.)?
  • Do 3rd party services (, Twitter & Flickr favourites, Facebook likes etc.) have a role in your idea? How do these interact with the rest of the service? Can previous saved content be connected or suggested?
  • How can this work on single or multiple devices?
  • How does location influence the interface?
  • How do you want to expose the service (built-in browser UI, add-on/extension, web-based tool, widget or app, etc.)

Teams started tackling the challenge with a Research & Explore phase. It was great to see the various different approaches, including several brainstorming techniques, guerilla interviews or twitter surveys.

Mindmapping ideas

Mindmapping ideas

Desk research

Desk research



At hackdays, the only time when outcomes are being shared is during the (often very short) presentations at the end of the day. At a Design Jam, the process is just as important as the outcome. How did you get this idea? How did you approach the problem? To allow teams to compare their processes and bounce ideas off each other, the groups shared what they had done so far before lunch. Articulating their ideas and getting questions from the audience helped teams to focus, and seeing how other teams had taken completely different steps got everybody reflecting on the many different ways to explore a problem.

“Seeing what the other teams had been doing made us see our idea differently and helped us focus” – Jeff van Campen

Lunchtime show & tell

Show & tell

One of the interim presentations

One of the interim presentations

After collecting tons of insights and coming up with some great concepts, the rest of the day was dedicated to the Design phase. The biggest challenge for the teams was to decide which aspect of their idea they wanted to focus on. Personas, guerilla research, sketching and storyboarding helped to prioritise and refine the design concepts. Design Jam mentors Leisa Reichelt and Ivanka Majic helped teams to make decisions and start visualising by looking at the concepts from a different perspective, asking the right challenging questions, and offering Jelly beans.

Leisa, conversations with the teams

Leisa chats with a team

Ivanka, conversations with the teams

Ivanka helps a team

Working on the wireframes

Sketching out a flow



In their final presentations, each team shared what they had done during the design phase, and presented the concepts. Outcomes included personas and scenarios, sketches and paper prototypes, diagrams explaining what the service does, and flow charts explaining what users do. The teams also talked about their design process. It was interesting to hear about the different approaches to sketching, with teams using techniques like the ‘6 up’ template to have many ideas, or personas, storyboards and tools such as Stephen Anderson’s mental notes cards to have different ideas. It was also fascinating to see how people ‘winged’ the final presentations, using elevator pitches, iPad sketches and great stories to communicate the value proposition of their idea.

mindSTORM - final presentation

mindSTORM - final presentation

Bucket 9 - final presentation

Bucket 9 - final presentation

Stachs - final presentation

Stachs - final presentation

You can find more information and see details about each team’s design process and outcome on the Design Jam wiki, check out the photos on Flickr, and videos of the day will be up on Vimeo.

What’s next?

The London Design Jam was a first attempt to try out this new format and understand the key aspects that will allow teams to collaborate, learn from each other, and walk away with a tangible design concept. Participant feedback and general interest confirmed that there’s definitely an appetite for this kind of event – an opportunity to share knowledge through creating and doing rather than talking. The aim is to have regular Design Jams in London, the UK, around the world, really. The London organisers are busy turning their learnings into a Design Jam organisers handbook, to make it easy to put on future sessions. If you’re interested in organising a Design Jam, add your name to the Design Jam wiki.

Thanks to Mozilla Labs, City University London, and Johnny Holland for supporting Design Jam.

Questions, suggestions, doubts? Thoughts on getting UXers to collaborate? Done something similar, and have advice? Share your thoughts.


Header image under Creative Commons by E1

All photos by Design Jam London. The outcomes of Design Jam are shared under a Creative Commons license.

Johanna Kollmann

Johanna Kollmann is a Senior UX consultant at EMC Consulting in London. Her background is in Information Design and Human-Computer Interaction, and one of her main interests is how UX designers collaborate in multi-disciplinary teams. When she's don’t organising or attending barcamps, hackdays or other geeky events, Johanna can be found at gigs or on her mission to find the best espresso in town.

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