How to make creative workshops fun for everyone

So we ran a pretty good workshop the other day. Sure we had a reason — to understand speech tech better — but really we did it just for the fun of it. All of Apegroup got invited for half a day of thinking, sketching and presenting. And we had fun, and it was productive too.

No big deal, you say? You would think an opportunity to imagine new ideas without worrying about hours and deadlines are guaranteed fun. But not in my experience.

I’m amazed at how activities such as this often fall flat, caught up in endless questioning and rambling presentations. Why is that?

Reasons why

We did a few things different this time around. Some of which may sound obvious, others perhaps less so.

1. Make sure you have a question worth answering 
2. Be free from process but a slave to the format 
3. Commit time and resources to realising the results

Make sure you have a question worth answring

Pick the question carefully and phrase it carefully. We favoured questions everyone could emphathise with and if solved, would improve our daily life and the experience of our customers. In the end we settled on:

How might we use speech technology to make our visitors feel more welcome?

No ethnographic research necessary. We’ve all received our visitors as well as visiting our customer and partners. Are you at the right place? Forgot the name of the person you’re about to meet? Where are the bathrooms? What is the wifi password? It’s easy to pick your favorite problem and get started creating possible solutions.

Be free from process but a slave to the format

Process is a hot topic here at Apegroup. Many of us obsess over design sprint methodology while others prefer solitude and introspection as way of being creative. Some look for the opportunity to break out of their comfort zone but need a little step-by-step guidance to get going.

After sharing a few straightforward ideation and story-telling techniques a few groups of likeminded people formed naturally while others went off in search of quiet places to work. No complaining, no drama, just creative thinking.

The same freedom should not apply to the outcome. We’ve all sat through many ill-prepared presentations that ramble on, wasting the time and attention of everyone involved. We insisted on a strict format. Each team had to deliver 2 minute long video of a presentation with pre-recorded voice-over for narration.

A presentation format with pre-recorded voice-over for narration, this one slightly off brief as it deals with time tracking.

The result was a dozen presentations in less than 30 minutes. Plenty of time left for answering questions and voting on solutions! The moderator simply had to press play. No hogging the limelight and no stage fright necessary.

Commit time and resources to realising the results

After spending all this time and energy there is often a sneaking suspicion that nothing will come of it. It may have happened before and it makes it so much harder to get motivated the second time around.

Will anything come of this?

From the get go we committed 2 weeks worth of development time for the most promising idea, and we immediately followed up with a hackathon to understand which ideas could be pushed the furthest with current speech technology. And with that we put the question to bed.

Understanding which ideas could be pushed the furthest with current speech tech.

Learnings

From now on we’ll only run (non-client) workshops when we have participants itching to solve worthwhile problems as well as the resources required to turn it into something real afterwards. Because who doesn’t want to see their ideas come to life?

A prototype using google speech tech, a door bell, raspberry pi and a projector with the aim of making us to shape up when visitors are at the door

Hello, my name is Petter Karlsson and I’m head of design at Apegroup, a design, technology & communication agency from Sweden. We help organisations build great digital products with engaging content. Want to know more about how we work? Learn more at our website.

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