Lightning Labs

An intensive week long design and research workshop.

A lightning lab is an intensive week of design iteration when a cross-functional team works collaboratively on a design challenge and iterates ideas with real users.  During the lightning lab, a set of stakeholders are identified ahead of time by the core project team.  Stakeholders are representatives from the user experience, product management, marketing, sales and development teams.  Everyone works collaboratively on one or more design challenges.

How does it work?

  • A cross-functional team of stakeholders is created
  • The team is presented with a design challenge and a target audience
  • Depending on the challenge, the team can use a short or long version (3-6 days)
  • Use the shorter version for short-term fixes or small design changes
  • Use the longer version when the team is at a major milestone or needs a new design approach
  • The team spends this time in a war-room somewhere separate from their working environment

What do Days 1 – 5 look like in a Lightning Lab?

First, the team reviews:

  • Competitive Info (pros & cons of major competitors w/ screenshots which can be stapled to the wall)
  • Best practices related to user interface and conduct a show & tell
  • Any relevant research including user testing or market research
  • Enact User/ Personas (teams can break out and do skits if there is time).
    Note: if you don’t yet have personas, the team can create a set of personas on the first day to use for the term of the lightning lab.
  • Previously created design ideas or research we know about.


  • The team brainstorms and prioritizes goals and (optionally) does a brand pyramid exercise.

DAY 2 – 4

  • The team collaboratively mocks up multiple UI models to solve the problem (quantity first, then narrow to best choices)
  • Use the Lightning Lab Kit to create paper mockups
  • The paper mockups are put through 1-2 rounds of usability testing and refinement.


  • Finalize mockups which will represent the collective team vision/ design direction. Over the next 1-2 weeks, a prototyper will create a realistic, clickable prototype based on the mockup.
  • Review and agree upon next steps and priorities including:
  • A roadmap for going forward
  • Reviewing designs with other stakeholders, plan a time to present the Design Lab findings & designs to the extended team
  • Formalizing & detailing the designs
  • Create short and long term milestones

Why conduct a Lightning Lab?

  • To ideate as quickly as possible with a cross-functional team
  • To incorporate user feedback effectively and early
  • To bring the team together on the same page quickly
  • To produce the best quality products in the shortest amount of time
  • To have fun!

When to have a Lightning Lab?

Ideally, a lightning labs are conducted at the very beginning of a project’s lifecycle; right at the start of business planning.  However, a lightning lab can be used to jumpstart a stalled project or to accelerate an existing problem space.

Pearson’s ex-Chief Executive Officer and ATEA’s partner Sandhya S. Pillalamarri and team developed Lightning Labs during her tenure at Pearson Education. Since then, the Lightning Labs process has been replicated for over 30 different projects and has been hailed a huge success at several organizations.

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