David and Mary Sherwin work with design teams in for-profit and nonprofit organizations via their consulting business, Ask The Sherwins, LLC. They’re also professors at the Pacific College of Art in the Design and Collaboration Program. In this episode, we go deep into designing teams, consider more effective ways to teach design and teams, and ways to make teams work when working remotely with Dawan Stanford, your podcast host.

Show Summary

David’s background is in engineering and liberal arts. He graduated with an English degree, but had a side hustle doing graphic design. That’s where he discovered an interest in design. Much of his early design learning and education was accomplished by apprenticing at various design studios Then, he shifted into product and service design, and he worked in product development for some large software organizations. 

Mary started in organizational development and content strategy, and then moved into teaching within the design discipline. Much of Mary’s experience had been working with designers. Most of David’s experience was from a designer’s standpoint, working with people like Mary.

Mary and David realized that the work they were doing on their respective paths had a lot of synergy and that they each held half of the solution. They started teaching together seven years ago. Three years after that, they founded their company after students in a special graduate-level teamwork class told them they should start their own business, because this was something companies wanted their employees to learn.

Since starting Ask The Sherwins, Mary and David have discovered and developed the nuances of developing strong, well-functioning teams. From facilitating your new team at the start of the design process, to what to do when your team feels like it’s falling apart, to working through cultural differences, Mary and David have robust processes for all of these team challenges. They discuss their management style, team-building exercises, and team maintenance practices on team design.

Listen in to learn:

  • Why Mary and David’s ability to “professionally disagree” gives them an advantage when working with design clients
  • Why their two different career paths gives two different perspectives on the design process
  • About cultural biases, assumptions, and their role in design solutions
  • Why Mary and David encourage students and professors to teach and learn from each other
  • Advice on how to start your team
  • Mary and David’s team facilitation process during their first meeting
  • Team word tools to use when the team situation gets difficult
  • When you should use behavioral questioning

Our Guest’s Bio

David and Mary Sherwin are co-founders of Ask The Sherwins, LLC, a consulting and training firm that helps design organizations develop the capabilities they need for better product design and stronger cross-functional teamwork. They have recently coached product and service design teams and provided training around innovation best practices for organizations such as Philips Oral Healthcare, Tipping Point Community, The Purpose Project, Google UX Community and Culture, and Eventbrite. The Sherwins are also active in the design education space. They lead workshops in the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design’s Summer School and currently teach in the MFA in Collaborative Design program at PNCA. In their spare time, David and Mary have collaborated on three books, including their most recent, Turning People Into Teams.

Show Highlights 

[02:15] Mary and David talk about their origin story and how they arrived where they are now in design. 

[02:15] Mary and David talk about their origin story and how they arrived where they are now in design. 

[04:26] How Mary’s experience in teaching played out in her design experience.

[07:48] Components of a team from Mary and David’s perspective. 

[10:08] Prototyping for norms, teams and individual thinking.

[11:08] Advice for starting a team off well.

[11:46] The importance of having team members discuss their values and the behaviors they want to see in the team.

[12:50] The Why’s and How’s of the  Team Words card deck created by Mary and David.

[16:55] How talking through values and behaviors at the beginning helps teams save time and deal with challenges and misunderstandings.

[19:43] Ways a team’s “status quo”  can create invisible walls and obstacles for new team members. 

[22: 35] What to do when everything that can go wrong with a team has gone wrong.

[24:49] Habits to bring to your team to encourage connection and mutual support.

[27:39] Why you should have a clear “etiquette” for your team.

[28:53] How their consulting work influences what they teach.

[30:38] Lessons they teach students when they deliberately break up a team.

[33:56] Advice from Mary and David on how and who to hire or choose for a team. 

[35:35] When a design challenge as part of the interview process can be helpful.

[36:18] The two go-to “silver bullet” questions Mary likes — one for the interviewer and the interviewee.

[40:57] A look at how David and Mary “ride along” on a project, and how they tailor their coaching strategy to the client.

[43:18] Ways of working with remote team members and teams.

[46:34] Technology, remote work, and working within human time limitations.

[50:00] Advice to teams on how to make improvements and changes.

[52:03] Mary and David talk about books they’ve read, their own books, and their ephemeral advice column.


Design Thinking 101

Fluid Hive Design Innovation

Ask the Sherwins, LLC

Contact Mary and David

Teamwords: The Working Deck

Books by David and Mary Sherwin:

Turning People into Teams

Creative Workshops

Success by Design

Book Recommendation: The Culture Map: Breaking Through the Invisible Boundaries of Global Business, by Erin Meyer

Other Design Thinking 101 Episodes You Might Like

Humble Design Leadership + Design Agency and Experience Design Evolution with Aleksandra Melnikova — DT101 E33

The Evolution of Teaching and Learning Design with Bruce Hanington — DT101 E39


Thank you for listening to the show and looking at the show notes. Send your questions, suggestions, and guest ideas to Dawan and the Fluid Hive team. Cheers ~ Dawan

Free Download — Design Driven Innovation: Avoid Innovation Traps with These 9 Steps

Innovation Smart Start Webinar — Take your innovation projects from frantic to focused!