As a senior design leader in the web and mobile design group, I led the process for setting design vision for how Autodesk’s value proposition would be expressed and amplified by the cloud, and on mobile form factors. We started from a blank canvas. This challenging task required a new type of design practice enabling design to break out of indirection and cultural impediments. We branded this process Autodesk Sweatlodge. The team executed eight Sweatlodges over the course of 2012-2013.
Problem to Solve
Establish a clear vision to activate the organization
Start from a blank canvas; Move quickly - time to market was critical; Account for work-in-progress across multiple internal organizations; Involve and activate talent from multiple organizations
Sweatlodge focuses a group of designers on deep thinking around a specific topic. Participants are required to set aside all other work for the duration of the session.Always includes the development of assets that communicate the resulting ideas.Never includes remote participants. Participants must literally ‘enter the lodge’ to ensure focus and velocity.Always includes cross-divisional participation so ideas come from shared authorship and broader buy-in.Always includes multiple functions including interaction design, user research and visual design to help tell the story.Always ends in a presentation deadline that serves as a make or break commitment.
The most common deliverable were ‘just beyond wireframe’ narrative walkthroughs of critical product concepts. The following narrative focused on visualization in the cloud.
Sweatlodge Process
The Sweatlodge process is designed to yield solutions to difficult problems that are hard to define. These problems require focused study and broad input to answer credibly. The following summarizes the general process for achieving credible answers.
1 – Publish seed questions and pre-research work – New topics for Sweatlodge are proposed through a set of seed questions. Seed questions provide a general description of session focus. In hindsight, seed questions are never the best questions. The session inevitably yields better questions to answer. If appropriate, we’ll arrange to execute research against some seed questions so that we go into the Sweatlodge armed with better background.
2 – Execute the session – All participants are co-located. Start with background information, results of pre-study. Define the problem. Brainstorm solutions. Create assets that demonstrate the solution. Refine the presentation of the solution.
3 – Present the outcome for sign-off – The outcome presentation is first given to the ACT Leadership and Coordination teams who decide if the material is ready to be shared widely.
4 – Broadcast widely – Sweatlodge participants coordinate to deliver the presentation to their divisions and product groups. The Sweatlodge presentation is also recorded and published on this site. Everyone in the company is invited to view the outcomes.
5 – Road map – An inspiring ‘what’ without any ‘how’ creates churn. While the understanding of the topic is still fresh, Sweatlodge leadership coordinates road-mapping activities to add specifics on how to achieve the outcome.

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