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SF DesignWeek: 5×5 Napkin Stories

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Over the past year we’ve had many people tell us they loved our 5×5 format from the last Design Week. So we’re bringing it back – this time featuring our Napkin Stories.

What is a napkin? Every designer has had the experience at one point or another of having someone draw something for them, and ask them to take it and make it look good.

This happens for one (or many) of several reasons:

  • They don’t have time to think about or discuss alternatives
  • They think it’s the best solution
  • They think you have little to offer besides tarting up their idea (“Make it sparkly”)

Too often, people assume point #3, get insulted, but sparkle-ize it anyway. It’s demoralizing and often results in sub-par work (it is at least not as good as it could be).

This happens in other contexts too: Actors get told how to say their lines (the dreaded “line reading”). Writers are asked to “just write [my idea] up”. Designers tell Engineers how they should implement what’s designed. Most of us are guilty of assuming #3 at some point, whatever our role is.

Join us at our SF Design Week event to hear 5 stories about the napkins we’ve received and 5 ways we’ve tried to work with them. These talks are about how to “reverse out” design thinking. How to look at a napkin drawing and work with the person who drew it to understand what their goals were when they made it, and to propose alternative solutions.

Conversely, if you think in solutions and can’t help handing scribbles on napkins to your colleagues, they are about how to back out your own thought process and get more and better contributions from your colleagues.

Either way, it’s about better solutions.


Audrey Crane

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