Collaboration with Cheese & Tomato Sandwiches

A little while ago, I had the privilege of running a not-so-little ‘Lunch and Learn’.

This is where we, as a company, get together over lunch (sorry, no cheese and tomato sandwiches were consumed during the workshop) and share an idea or talk about a topic. Boy, was I nervous! The topic I was given was ‘Design Standards and Creative Collaboration’. (NB: I will only cover creative collaboration in this blog.)

There are well known creative collaboration approaches that include design sprints, brainstorming sessions, mind mapping and card sorting. If you’re a designer, you will be very familiar with these methods.

Instead, in our ‘Lunch & Learn’, I focused more on how we collaborate and who we collaborate with to encourage teams to work together to solve problems. I don’t think it should be left only to the UX designer to review a problem and trial them against user types alone at their desk. We should all work together to solve the problem. I’m not just talking about the senior leads, I mean ALL of us. We all have something to bring to the table.

I remembered an approach Tom Wujec, an author and speaker known for his ability to solve problems. (I give him many credits to him for this blog and what I’ve learned from him along the way.)

Part 1: Show Me Your Cheese & Tomato Sandwich

As the ‘Lunch & Learn’ began, I asked everyone in the company to illustrate and annotate their process for making a simple cheese and tomato sandwich (a staple of British diets). Of those present from the company, the group I spoke to consisted of designers, developers, accountants, studio managers, copywriters and more. So, a pretty diverse and talented team.

They each worked individually to create their diagrams and processes. Some drew pictures, others just created a list. Everyone had a different approach. Here are some of the examples of the drawings I got back:

What we learnt by reviewing our drawings was:

1. We all think differently.

From how we structure and display our ideas to how we illustrate and explain. We all have different thinking.

2. Details are important.

For something so simple as a cheese and tomato sandwich, there are still a series of steps we need to break down.  If we think it through, a series of detailed explanations can be given; from how you cut and butter a bread slice and the knife used to do those actions. It’s important to note that we explain different levels of details as well.

3. We all represent content differently.

We had some people drawing, some writing a narrative, some creating a storyboard, code examples, the lot. This was fantastic to see. How we think about and present each component is as individual as we are.

4. Breaking down the problem means solving the problem.

Something else that came out was that we each individually broke the problem down into smaller components and brought them back together by relating them to each other. By doing this we break the problem down into it’s individual pieces. Then, by putting it back together, we solve the problem.

Part 2: Group Session

After the individual cheese and tomato exercise, I split the company into groups, each with a mixture of expertise and skills. I gave them all cards to do the same task: create the best and yummiest cheese and tomato sandwich within 10-15 minutes.

What we learnt from this approach:

What came back was amazing. People made up games to give them the best sandwich, narratives and even acting was involved.  “Prototypes” were made. It was awesome to see everyone’s imagination and creativity work together.

What this activity allowed us to do was to perform rapid analysis of the problem. We all drew a lot clearer and had a more logical approach. We built on top of each other’s ideas, the combination of components to form a connected whole. And through discussion we were able to review and reflect to make it the best. In only 15 minutes, we achieved all this.

When we applied this approach to other methods of solving problems for our clients we could solve problems pretty quickly.  It gives us a good start where we can then refine, develop and build on. It allows us to all get together and have a solid understanding of the problem and know there are a multitude of results we can choose instead of just one.


What we can take away from all of the points above is that we all think differently. When we had a collaboration between a group of individuals who all thought differently, creatively in their own ways, we are able to analyse and tackle problems from a wide variety of angles to achieve the greatest products.


The biggest breakthroughs happen when a network of self-motivated people with a collective vision join together to share ideas, information and work.

How to make collaboration work for your team:

Before jumping in, make sure you set some ground rules. There are always bold individuals within groups who often unknowingly take the limelight or some that are too shy to voice their awesome ideas. Below are few tips on how to go about making a collaborative approach work in your teams.

Work as a Team

We all work much better when we’re teamed up, and when we work together, we’re greater than the sum of our parts.

Say No to Negativity

Constructive criticism is welcome; negative comments are forbidden”

Go Wild

Freewheeling is welcome: don’t be afraid to say anything that comes into mind.

Gather Diversity

Creative potential doesn’t reside in a job description. Collaborate with people who aren’t in your network and watch the magic happen.

Solo Time

Take a step back and work alone to gather your thoughts to ensure comments are constructive and will add value.

Go Fast

Speed up the process by thinking fast. Idea generation is all about quantity first, and then we go refine and solve the problem.

Find New Spaces

Successful collaboration occurs in a setting that gives people both time and the opportunity to work together with no external disruptions.

Remember, it’s a Journey

Collaborative work is a journey that involves a series of challenges and interaction to solve.

Bad Ideas are Awesome

Learn to love bad ideas, because we learn and develop ourselves from them.

We’ve got great ideas and tons of passion. If you need digital, creative or video solutions, drop us a line.


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