How to set up a mobile studio

At CIID Consulting, almost every project requires us to travel to new locations. We rapidly immerse ourselves in a new context to understand a particular user group and inform the development of new products and services. Over the past years the team has executed international innovation projects for global corporations, tech firms and nonprofits. Our work has taken us to many corners of the World; From a shipping dock at the Panama Canal, to rural parts of India to the bustling streets of New York City, Shanghai and Beijing to name a few.

These diverse experiences have enabled us to build a thorough understanding of what it takes to turn our on-the-go surroundings into an optimal working space, that enables us to gather data, draw out insights and iterate prototypes. We like to think of this approach as setting up a mobile studio and want to share our top tips for doing so.

1. Travel as light as possible

They say that preparation is half the battle and in this case we couldn’t agree more. When setting up a mobile studio there are some key items we always have with us – you know the usual suspects, like Sharpies, Post-its, sketchbooks, camera, voice recorder etc. There is something very reassuring about having your own tools ready at hand, and we find it allows us to hit the ground running no matter where we are.

However, it’s also about striking that perfect balance between bringing your most crucial tools and still travelling lightly. For example, if you’re carrying paper research tools – print them on 120 gram paper instead of 250 gram card stock. This way the tools will still look and feel nice but the weight will reduce drastically. Secondly, consider swapping out the DSR and its giant lens for your phone or a GoPro. A good smartphone camera can work just as well, it’s less intrusive to snap photos with, plus most phones come with built in voice recorder apps.

  1. 2. The mobile studio transformation

A hotel room or an airport waiting area – a mobile studio can be created (almost) anywhere. You need to create a comfortable and private space that allows you to get an overview of your collected data, make basic iterations to tools/prototypes and host informal de-briefs & meetings. As long as you have a flat surface and can have a confidential conversation you’re good to go.

An amazing tool we never leave CIID without, is self-adhesive posters! They stick on almost any surface, you can write on them repeatedly, and you can roll them up and pack them. They’re great because they travel easily and transform any space into a temporary project room – a hotel room can instantly become a sketching and planning surface! 

  1. 3. The five post-it instant debrief

When doing field research or prototyping activities, those moments just after you finish are crucial. The team is usually tired and it’s often very tempting to take a break or call it a day. Over the years we’ve mastered the art of doing rapid debrief sessions, to capture everyone’s first impressions when you still have a little of that adrenalin flowing.

We have a very simple format that works really well for this. We ask everyone to write down the top five things they found most interesting, the things that stood out for them or surprised them. Everyone has 5 post-its they can fill out with either quotes, observations, personal reflections or ideas.

By limiting the number of post-its it forces everyone to empty their minds quickly and by doing it immediately after the activity it makes people go from their gut instinct rather than over-thinking it. Everyone then shares their five post-its with the rest of the team and you can begin to make initial clusters of themes or areas of interest. When returning back to our studio this initial debrief is always a great starting point for further analysis and synthesis.