I’ve recently had the possibility to run a set of UX design workshops. In this article I’ll share my experiences and how you can avoid some of the design workshop mistakes I have done in the past.
What is a UX design workshop and why do you need one?
A UX design workshop is a good way to kickoff a design project. Since design work is never done in complete isolation, you first need feedback from multiple disciplines and areas (e.g. business angle, user angle, technical angle). Then, as a designer, you need to balance this input to create the best experience possible, while at the same time considering limitations and tradeoffs.
Having a UX design workshop can then bring everyone on the same page, get involvement. It’s also a lot of fun to collaborate on initial design work!
When do you not need a UX design workshop?
If you are only a few people / key stakeholders project, I find it more efficient to run a set of stakeholder interviews instead of a full-on design workshop.
Another caveat is that in large groups, design workshops can easily turn into a session where people are afraid to say what they really want / need (this very much depends on the culture too so be sure to test your way through this). The workshop moderator (typically the UX lead) needs to be strong when facilitating the workshop and make sure that people are not afraid to voice their opinions.
Who should participate in a UX design workshop?
I like to have at least one representative per discipline / key area present in the design workshop. This may include e.g.
- Business side, e.g. Product owner / product manager, sales, marketing.
- Technical side, e.g. Architects, developers.
- User side, e.g. other designers, users.
Before the workshop
- Figure out the goal and WHY you need the workshop, e.g. what questions that needs to be answered during the workshop. Write down all such questions beforehand. This may also help you determine what kind of workshop exercises you need to run. For some examples of such workshop exercises, see the end of this article.
- Outline a UX workshop agenda up-front. It helps to really think through how long each workshop activity will take. Time-box activities when you are unsure of long each workshop activity will take. If it’s the first time you estimate (or run) a specific workshop activity, double or triple your original estimates. Remember to include breaks in the schedule (e.g. coffee breaks, lunch).
- Create presentation material to support the workshop. This may include e.g. the workshop agenda, how-to instructions for each design exercise, and questions that you need answered during the UX design workshop.
- Secure needed material before the workshop. Buy post-its. Aim to get the super sticky ones. If you have multiple exercises/categories, color code the categories (e.g. one set of post-it colors for users, one set of post-it colors for tasks). Bring pens in case workshop participants don’t have their own pens. If you need to perform dot voting, get some dot voting material too. If you need whiteboards / markers, make sure you have this available where you will run the workshop. If you are unsure, ask whoever books the room to make sure that the room has a whiteboard + markers.
- Check if people will participate from remote. If there will be people participating from remote, you need to make sure there is a conference phone, as well as that remote screen sharing works. If you can, ask to test the setup before the workshop to avoid any issues. You may also need to look into an alternative to capture workshop notes for participants, e.g. using an online whiteboard such as Miro.
- Do a dry-run of the workshop material beforehand. Gather feedback on the UX design workshop from within your team / company. Update and revise the agenda + presentation material accordingly.
- Decide who does what, e.g. who facilitates the workshop? Who asks domain-specific questions? Who captures notes? Who keeps track of time?
- Send the agenda to all UX design workshop participants and get confirmation in advance. Make sure you send the agenda at least a few weeks in advance if it’s a longer workshop (e.g. 1–2 full days).
- Get a good night’s sleep the day before the UX design workshop! Conducting a design workshop can be quite exhausting and I find it’s best to avoid working into the wee hours the day before…
- Have a plan (but be OK to deviate from the plan).
Even though you have outlined an agenda, prepared questions and presentation material, it is a good idea to be open to changes that deviate from the plan. Use the prepared material as a reference point, but not as a rulebook on what you must do. It can be valuable to spend some time on deviating discussions and questions. As the workshop facilitator, be humble but at the same time firm / decisive when needed.
- 1 designer, 1 domain expert, 1 note-taker
I like to have clear roles during the workshop. After running multiple workshops this is the setup I’ve found that works the best. The designer and domain expert can be up and active during the exercises, asking a lot of questions, and alternate taking notes / writing on the whiteboard when needed. The note-taker can capture both notes written on the board and other comments mentioned during the design, as well as keep track of time. It’s good to have both a designer and a domain expert present, since the domain expert can ask a lot more qualifying questions about the domain than typically the designer can. In the same way, the designer can complement with more design-specific and user-specific questions.
- Figure out who is the final decision maker.
This can also be done before the workshop, but sometimes it becomes even clearer during the workshop who is the final decision maker (i.e. who has the most and clearest opinions in the room, who provides 80% of the input). If there is a very clear final decision maker (and not a group of people deciding together), I recommend to avoid dot voting exercises to decide things, and instead keep an open dialog and discussion during the workshop.
- Limit time spent per activity & participant
For example, if you run a large design workshop, instead of having everyone go to the whiteboard and put up their sticky notes, and then having the moderator to go through each sticky note, you can do a round-table where each participant reads 1–2 sticky notes from their side, and skips duplicates / already mentioned notes (if any). It’s also recommended to limit time for brainstorming (e.g. 10–15 minutes per exercise).
After the workshop
- Capture some additional notes
Take some photos of the whiteboard (if used). Gather all used sticky notes. Even though you have a designated note-taker, it’s also good to take some extra notes just in case as a “Plan B”. In my view this also helps as a way to recollect what exactly was discussed during the workshop, and in what context.
- Get back to the design workshop participants
It’s just professional and good courtesy to make sure that everyone that participated in the workshop knows what happened / will happen to their feedback. By the very end of the workshop, mention what will happen next (e.g. “We will get back to you in X days, with Y and Z”.)
Some exercises that you can run during the UX design workshop
Questions & Answers
This is as simple as it sounds. Before the workshop, gather the team and brainstorm what questions you should ask to the people present in the workshop. This may be general ones, e.g. “What is the problem we are trying to solve?”, “Who are the users?”, “What is the context of use?”, but it may also be more specific inquiries about technology decisions that may impact the design (screen resolutions, browsers, where to find company relevant branding / style guides and so on).
User story mapping, or variants thereof
I find it very valuable to capture everyone’s view of the users are, what their goals are, and what tasks they need to perform (and ideally mentioned in which context of use). This can be accomplished by running some variant of a user story mapping exercise. In larger groups this may be tricky to facilitate in a good way, but I find this type of exercise can work well if you have a limited set of participants and a quite clear grip on what tasks that are performed.
For interaction design I find this very valuable. Basically you can do 1-up or 6-up sketching to generate a huge amount of ideas early on. This also has the added benefit that you collaborate on early designs, and that people tend to feel more involved in the early stages of the design. Each participant can then present the conceptual design ideas they had and their thoughts, and then you can do another iteration on the same type of exercise, where you build on previous conceptual designs made during the workshop. After the exercise is complete, the UX designer collects all the design ideas and uses them as input to create the initial wireframes of the user interface.
I hope you find this article about how to run a UX design workshop useful. Just one final tip: Do not overpromise during the workshop. Consider the exercises in the workshop a first iteration that you do together with key stakeholders. As with other design work, you will need to do multiple iterations before you narrow down what the final solution will be. A UX design workshop can be one way to introduce and involve key stakeholders in the first step of the UX design process.
Feel free to leave any comments / questions that you have below, and I’ll do my best to answer them. Thanks for reading!