Product Workshop @ California Design Studio

Brandon Kleinman came to Thought Merchants through a mutual friend to help him break through his product's nebulous state. It's a privilege to work with a founder at such an early and vulnerable state. Trust and honesty need to be shared right away. Brandon was not shy, and we had a fantastic collaboration session.

I have spent my entire career building a safe place to make seriously good products, and my studio is the culmination of 11 years of focus. It's a joy sharing my creative space with Brandon and use all the tools my curated space provides. Having the right tools at arm's length makes a workshop so much more productive.

Product workshop at Thought Merchants
Synthesizing Brandon's product ideas together.

Product workshops always adapt to the product and person, but they all follow the same framework:


Outline our goals, anti-goals (what we don't want to do), risks, and roles. Defining these gives us a shared lens to look through and evaluate our progress throughout the day. I prefer to write these on a whiteboard that is visible throughout the entire workshop. We will frequently reference them and modify them throughout the day.


Workshops are all about mental clarity and thinking. You have to get out of the room to keep the creative flow. We decided to walk down to Sunny Blue and eat delicious omusubi. Yum!


We breakdown user activities for this product on a huge table. A roll of paper, index cards, post-it notes, and markers of all colors help.


Small workshops are the highest fidelity experience a knowledge worker can provide, and the wrap-up is essential. The ocean water temperature is still warm enough for just trunks, so we jumped into the ocean! It's only five blocks away.

Take a look!

Jamming together around the conference table.
Skin the cat on the pull up bar
Showing off with my skin the cat on the pull-up bar. Brandon doesn't look impressed.


Sep 25, 2020


Steve Berry

What's going on here?

Design happens everywhere. We look at it and give you our critique.

By thinking critically about the design that exists around us - evaluating what works, what doesn’t and why - we can apply new perspectives and rigor to our work designing applications and systems and communicate more effectively through design.

Our observations range from big corporate rebrands to local business street fliers. With each, we’ve taken the time to break down the designs and offer our point of view via a ranking system modeled after the Robert Parker wine rating system.

The Rating System

Unsatisfactory: Does not achieve design or communication goals.
Satisfactory: Just enough, sufficient, fine or “sure.”
Good: It’s good.
Very Good: Better than most but not exceptional.
Exceptional: Unusually good, rare, outstanding.

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We love looking at new things, so if you want us to evaluate something you have seen or made, feel free to get in touch at, and be sure to sign up for the quarterly Thought Merchants email to get new observations delivered right to you.

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