Choosing the best design can get tricky at times, especially when there are opposing views in the room. To solve this conundrum, I usually like to use this technique from the Design Sprint methodology called the ‘Silent Art Museum’.

Have you ever been to an art museum?

It is usually a quiet environment where you can lose yourself studying, reflecting, or admiring bodies of work from renowned and emerging artists.

This method works the same way, allowing people to silently observe, think and vote on the best visual solution that will break any deadlock. It’s structured, simple, practical, and effective in finding a consensus among people.

We usually do this on Day 2 or 3 of a Design Sprint, after we have created a stack of visual ideas. Technically, you can use it for any project, but the “art museum” part of this technique means it is best suited for things with a visual element such as an interface, website, logo, poster, etc.

This method is about pinning down the best solution, so you should already have a few variations of visual ideas for people to vote on, to move forward to the next step in creating a prototype or product.

How does the Silent Art Museum technique work?

Generally, you need about an hour to run this session. It is divided into:

  • The Art Museum
  • The Speed Critique
  • The Straw Poll
  • The Super Vote

1. The Art Museum

The setup is like an art museum. You will need a board where you can display all the different ideas you have as if you are in an art gallery.

We design a lot of web pages, so for this article, I’m going to use a website’s homepage as an example. You can draw it by hand or project the ideas from a laptop.

Each participant in the room gets 3 things: voting stickers, post-it notes and a pen. The stickers are for you to place on the ideas you like, while the post-its are for sticking questions on the board.

Now, everyone should silently go through each idea or each section of all ideas, place a sticker on whichever takes their fancy, or place questions on the board if they are unclear about anything.

The important thing in this whole exercise is to keep silent. You’re not discussing, asking, or trying to influence others to your opinion

2. The Speed Critique

Once the initial voting is done, you will see a heatmap of some sorts on the board. Popular or great ideas will have a bunch of stickers while the subpar ones will have fewer stickers.

In this session, the facilitator will quickly review each idea with the participants, answer questions, and have a brief open discussion as to why some ideas are liked more than others. You need a timer for this to avoid going off tangent. For example, allocate 3 minutes per idea, which means you only need 6 minutes if you have two variations.

If you’re facilitating, make sure you fully understand the business goals and the ideas in hand because the session will be unproductive or time consuming otherwise.

3. The Straw Poll

The straw poll session is really just a fancy name for a final round of voting. Everyone gets a sticker each to place on the final idea, silently placing them just like in the first round.

After voting, each person will quickly explain to the Decider, on why they chose the idea. A Decider is the person responsible for making the final decision and is typically a product manager, creative director or even CEO.

4. The Super Vote

Now, the Decider gets 2 stickers. The first sticker is for the idea they like the most, and the second sticker is for a design element, area, or feature that they like the most, but is not in the winning idea.

This is crucial to incorporate the best element, regardless of where it comes from, into the final idea. To illustrate, the Decider may vote for Idea #1 as the best, but he or she prefers the homepage navigation bar of Idea #2 instead.

I must stress that the Decider gets the final say for the project, or the veto vote, even if it goes against the grain of the majority. However, this situation rarely happens because most people tend to listen to consensus.

If you’re facing a tight or tough decision, you could try user testing or A/B testing to nail down the winning idea, but I don’t recommend dragging the decision making any further because it is counterproductive.

And, that’s a wrap. You should have a firm solution to work on by applying the ‘Silent Art Museum’ method.

You can conduct the whole session online too, which is especially helpful during this pandemic lockdown we are facing. I recommend using MURAL software, as it is one of the best we’ve used for remote workshop sessions. I hope this helps your future projects.

If you’d like to watch a video and learn more about this process, here’s one that I prepared earlier 🙂

Alvin Hermanto

Alvin Hermanto

Alvin Hermanto is a design leader who is passionate about practicality, quality, and human-centred design. As founder of award winning digital design agency, Relab, his clients include leading businesses in retail, education, real estate, and hospitality. He has personally grown Relab to be one of Australia’s leading design sprint agencies. You’ll find him speaking at design sprint, business, and educational events. His mission is simple: help others build and launch products faster without compromising quality or sacrificing user satisfaction. He also thrives on mentoring small businesses and startups, getting them to simplify processes, build better businesses and create productive teams.