The 6-1-1 Sketching Session

What’s all this then?

A 6-1-1 is a structured sketching exercise. You may recognize it as a miniature version of a design studio workshop (example) or you may also see that it is very similar to some of the methods popularized through Lean UX and Design Sprints. I developed the 6-1-1 as a lightweight workshop while at LivingSocial in response to two main forces:

  • the emergence of Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden’s work in Lean UX, which I found very influential and was implementing at the office as a practice
  • the energetic environment of the company; exciting and creative but sometimes lacking in direction and focus.

When to do a 6-1-1

When you have a problem that you are trying to solve and…

  • You are having trouble coming up with solutions
  • You are having trouble agreeing on solutions
  • You are having trouble focusing on a solution
  • You need input on solutions from a diverse group of stakeholders
  • You need to get shit done fast
  • You need to get a lot of input from a a lot of people and bring focus to that direction as quickly as possible

In any of these cases, or in any combination of these cases, a sketching session can act as a powerful tool for bringing alignment and buy-in within your team and ultimately with the greater cross-functional set of stakeholders involved.

Prep for the session

Write a clear and concise problem statement. The session itself will rely heavily on understanding of a problem. Do the work; research and clarify a problem that you are trying to solve. If you don’t have this, the session will crash and burn.

There are numerous effective formats and structures for problem statements (user stories, jobs to be done, etc), so use the one that you and your team find effective. Make sure it includes:

  • who is affected by the problem
  • where and when they encounter the problem
  • what the problem is

…but leave it at that, and be very careful not to bias the conversation towards a solution!

It’s worth pointing out the importance of emphasizing who is affected by the problem. Communicating the affected person, in the form of a persona, is a powerful method for gaining the empathy required for your 6-1-1 participants to put themselves in another person’s shoes.

Gather the materials. Don’t let anyone off the hook because they don’t have a pen or a piece of paper. Get everything that will be needed ready in advance.

  • Room with whiteboard
  • Timer (phone is OK, but something bigger/louder is usually better)
  • Pens, pencils, markers, etc.
  • 6-up sheets for first round (paper with 6 boxes on it)
  • 1-up sheets for the 2nd round (paper with 1 box on it)
  • Big post-it pads for the final round

Find a cross-functional group of people. If you only invite design and product people, then you’re going to have a bad time. Actually, the session might go really well, but you’ll have a bad time when you end up releasing a product that only works for designers and product people. Mix it up. Definitely get people involved who talk to your customers on a regular basis; phone reps, field reps, etc. Get your development team to leave the cubicle behind for a couple hours–BONUS: getting your development team involved now will set a collaborative foundation that will pay off later. Get content people, finance, legal, executives–anyone who has a perspective on the customer experience.

Prep the invitation. The invitation is actually pretty important. Since this meeting is a lot more interesting than some boring old status update, there is a chance that people will actually read the invite. So,  it should include:

  • An explanation of the sketching session
  • The problem statement
  • Assurances that they don’t have to be great at drawing (more on this in a bit)
  • Complete and detailed agenda
  • An optimistic tone that shows everyone on the invite that they’r opinion is valuable

Set up an after-party. One the sketching session is done, you will need to meet with leadership to validate if this approach works and outline for them how you want to move forward. I recommend having this very soon after the sketching session.

Example  Meeting Invitation

Here’s an example of what to include in the meeting invite:

You are cordially invited to attend a sketching session for our ####TOPIC###. We’re going to run through a 6-1-1 sketching session, ending with our direction for a new prototype.

Problem Statement: ####insert problem statement here####

A note on sketching: Please remember that this is not a drawing exercise. The objective here is to communicate ideas that could solve the problem. If you can draw a triangle, a square and a circle, then you can draw some representation of every interface that has ever been designed. Finally, Don’t be afraid to be unrealistic with your ideas. Our most unrealistic ideas often become our most innovative solutions.


Seeion time: 90 minutes

Discuss the problem: 10-15 minutes We’ll start by making sure we all have a complete and shared understanding of our problem.

Sketching, 6-up: 8 minutes
On a 6-up sheet, sketch 6 ideas that address the problem.

Discuss & critique: 5 minutes per person
At this point, everyone in the session shares their ideas. It’s important not to judge any of the ideas at this time in terms of feasibility of even sensibility.
All ideas are available to trade and steal.

Sketching, 1-up: 5 minutes
After consolidating (stealing) ideas from each other, each participant creates one sketch that reflects the best approach to address the problem.

Discuss & critique: 5 minutes per person
At this point, everyone in the session shares their 1-up ideas.
All ideas are fair game: trade and steal

Sketching, Collaborative 1-up: 15 minutes
One person assumes the role of the draftsman.
The team collaborates on a final sketch that represents a single, consolidated approach.

Output & next steps
Sketches, ready for business validation, for use in creating stories & prototyping
parking lot of other ideas

Before the session

  • Get in 10-15 minutes early.
  • Distribute the materials around the room
  • Write your problem statement on the whiteboard.
  • Write the rules on the board (more on that in a minute).
  • Set out any refreshments you might have brought.
  • Get ready to greet everyone with a smile.

Begin the session with rules

Welcome everyone to the session and thank them for their time.

Start off with the rules of the session. I like to use the rules to set the tone: fun, a little irreverent, but focused.

Rule #1: No job titles. Emphasize that everyone has something to add from their area of expertise. I like to take this opportunity to call out any senior leadership in the room if I have some rapport with them, “Hey, for the next 90 minutes, you’re not the CFO, you’re not anyone’s boss, but you are someone who knows a lot about corporate finance and markets and for that, we need your help.”

Rule #2: No drawing, only sketching. Sometimes I like to show a picture of some really amazing pencil work like MC Escher, Leonardo Da Vinci, or maybe mix it up with one of those charcoal drawings of Tupac that you get at the boardwalk. Then emphasized that we’re not here to draw, we’re here to sketch. I like to do something that I heard from Jeff Gotthelf in a LeanUX workshop; I draw a square, a circle, and a triangle on the whiteboard and tell them, “if you can draw something like this, you can draw every computer screen or mobile app that has every existed. Stick figures are OK, even welcome. We’re not here to be artists, we’re not here to make it beautiful, we’re here to solve a problem and communicate with each other.”

Rule #3: It’s OK. If you sketched something and it didn’t quite come out the way you wanted–it’s OK. If you didn’t think of as many ideas as you wanted–it’s OK. If someone else at your table is running away with it or is falling short–it’s OK. If you feel overwhelmed or confused, ask for help–it’s OK. No one is getting graded on their performance, this isn’t going to go on your review, just listen, sketch, and relax.

Get to know the problem

Ask someone in the room to read the problem statement off the board and ask them what it means. Then ask, “who else knows about this problem?” Listen and course correct if necessary. Then ask for another perspective from anyone else in the room. Refine the problem statement if necessary. Be ready, just in case, to defend the problem statement without being defensive. Outline for everyone that solving this problem statement is their objective for the day.


As you guide the team through the scheduled exercises, keep time and keep a positive spin on the activity.

Sketching, Round 1, 6-up instructions: We’re going to start with the worksheet you have in front of you with six boxes on it. Before we start, write your name and the date on the sheet. OK, so, we’re going to come up with as many solutions as possible to solve the problem we just talked about. Crazy ideas are welcome! You can work through the same idea more than once because you might kit it from a different angle the 2nd time around. You can imagine unlimited technology and resources and everything works all the time–no limits, nothing is too crazy, nothing is too boring, nothing is impossible. Any questions? 8 minutes. Go.

Timer: 8 minutes

Sharing, round 1: OK, so now that we’re brimming with ideas, we’re going to share them with each other. But, and this is very important. The only thing we are going to do is share them. We are not going to critique them or offer feedback, but only to share. As you go around the table, each person gets about 5 minutes. While other people are talking, take notes on things you think are a good solution to the problem, you will use these in the next round.

Give them about 5 minutes per person. If you hear feedback or critique beyond any reactive “I like that” or “that’s interesting” then remind the team to stick to sharing and we can build on the critique in the next round. 

Sketching, Round 2, 1-up: OK, sounds like we had some great ideas within the group. I saw some great sharing, and heard some great ideas. Next up we’re going to use the sheet with one big box on it. Put your name and today’s date on it if you haven’t already. So, we’re going to approach this round a little differently. We talked about our problem (read the problem). We sketched up all kinds of solutions. You took notes on the solutions that you heard and you have your solutions that you came up with. Next, on the sheet with one big box, I want you to sketch the 1 approach that you think would be the best solution to the problem. You can integrate the solutions from other people in the group. All ideas are fair game, so you can steal other people’s ideas, remix them, turn them upside down and backwards, and re-imagine it as one solution that you’re going to sketch on this sheet. And you’re going to do it in under 5 minutes. Any questions? OK, 5 minutes, go!

Timer: 5 minutes

Share and critique; OK, time’s up. Next we’re going to share our ideas, but we’re going to do things a little differently. We’re going to go around the group sharing our solution. I want you to listen for themes that emerge as people share their solutions. What do these solutions have in common? What bubbles up as a good idea within the group? Take some notes of the key themes you hear and write them on your sheet. Go ahead and share, about 3-5 minutes per person.

Time box of 3-5 minutes per person. The team shares their work with each other and themes start to emerge. Facilitate the conversation towards capturing themes.

Sketching, collaborative: OK, it’s time to pull it all together. What were the themes that emerged in your discussion?

Someone from the group read the themes, write them on the whiteboard.

OK, fantastic. Next, let’s elect a draftsman from the group–you take the marker. Now, we’ll work collectively on the giant post-it-pad to try to weave these themes together. As we go, we can talk through the themes.

  • What stands out as a rock solid must have solution for the person that is described in the problem? For who they are–when and where they are?
  • Which ones really make sense for us?
  • Which ones stand out as something special, either a competitive advantage or something we do especially well?

Prioritize the themes to make it clearer what’s a must-have and start sketching against those themes. Work through the list of themes until the output sketch meets the criteria.

Review and critique the final sketch. Thank everyone for their time, creativity and effort!

What now?

Catalog the output. Once there is a final sketch, take pictures of all the sketch worksheets and catalog them all in your resource of choice: team wiki or whatever.

Send out a thank-you note. Send everyone involved some sincere thanks and a link to the sketches. Remind them that they’re making a valuable contribution as part of the design process.

Develop a hypothesis. The design that was revealed in the session is, in and of itself, a hypothesis for solving the problem that you started with. Verbalize this hypothesis.

Afterparty and validation. Remember that “after party?” Here’s how that’s going to work. Set up a presentation for leadership who may or may not have attended:

  1. Walk through the problem
  2. Outline the structure of the exercise
  3. Take a minute to compliment all your participants for their intrepid contributions (this is what makes it an afterparty–the good vibes)
  4. Outline the new direction and a hypothesis

Seek their validation and reality check. Is this a direction that you should pursue as an experiment? Is this something that our company does or could potentially do?

The output of that meeting may require some refinement to your direction, but you should be in a good position to take the output sketch and push towards a prototype as quickly as possible.

If you’re cool and you have a mature style guide with prototyping templates ready to go, then hey, good for you. If not, your next step is to pull together something that works for you. The team at Google Ventures emphasizes that a prototype is meant to be a facade for an experience, and this is a good approach. This sketch should set a foundation for that facade; a direction and hypothesis for you team to investigate.

I hope this explanation was helpful. I’d be happy to talk about it–don’t hesitate to get in touch!