When I first started working as a UX Consultant, I thought I should always have all the answers and the best ideas. I was supposed to be an expert after all and that’s what experts do, right?
Well, not really. As years past, and I became more senior, I realised it is impossible to have all the answers, and you should not pretend you do.
In fact, as companies become more UX mature, our engagement model as UX consultants has shifted from providing design solutions, ready to be built, to helping grow a company’s internal UX capabilities and involving everyone in shaping its user experience.
In this context, the value I bring to the table as UX professional, it is not having all the answers but my experience in applying User Centred Design methodologies to better understand problems and to come up with better design solutions. This includes asking the right questions, building empathy across the organisation, getting different people or different teams to work together and bring the best solution to market.
If, after following this process, the winning idea for the new product came from me or from someone else is irrelevant. In fact, it’s usually better if the best ideas come from the internal teams, instead of external consultants. Internal employees have better chances to bring these solutions to life, follow through their evolution and enhance them over time.
In this article, I want to talk about one of the techniques I find most useful to foster collaboration within organisations, drive engagement and spark innovative thinking: UX workshops (both research and co-design workshops).
What is a UX workshop?
A UX workshop is a group session (discussions and/or hand-on activities) with users or stakeholders to learn about their motivations, behaviors and ideas with the aim to design better products and services.
Why run a UX workshop?
What are UX workshops most useful for?
- Hands-on approach helps uncovering tacit knowledge
- Relaxed and fun environment encourages collaboration
- More time-efficient than individual interviews
- Facilitate dialogue between different people
- Gather insights from domain experts
- Identify frustrations with current state
- Generate ideas for future state and set priorities
How to prepare a UX workshop?
Outlined below are the key steps and considerations when preparing a UX workshop.
1. Write down your research objectives
What questions are you trying to answer with your research?
What type of data are you interested in collecting: qualitative, quantitative or both?
2. Confirm the research method and approach
Is a workshop the best research method to answer your research questions? Why?
Does your workshop need to cover any topic that participants may feel uncomfortable discussing in a group setting? (If so, consider using another method)
3. Plan your workshop logistics (participants, space, date…)
Who are the participants for the workshops? (Be careful with internal staff and mixing different levels of hierarchy, as people may not feel open to discuss certain opinions or behaviours in front of their boss)
How are you going to recruit these participants? (Include 1 or 2 extra people to cover for no-shows and cancellations)
Will the participants receive any incentive for their time in the workshop?
What is the best time and duration for the workshop? (Business hours or after work…)
Where are you running your workshop? (Is it formal or informal, accessibility, recording options…)
How are you going to capture the information from your workshop? (Bring a note taker if possible, you can also record the session or setup a live feed and invite your stakeholders to observe from another room)
4. Prepare your workshop script
What activities do you want participants to do during the workshop? (In order to answer the questions you identified in step 1)
What follow-up questions do you need to ask to ensure you get the information you need?
How can you order the different activities and breaks to make the session flow naturally?
How long do you need for each activity? How many breaks, if any, do you need to include?
Which activity/s can be skipped (not critical) if you are running out of time
5. Set up the room
Have you got everything you need for the workshop? (Consent forms, incentives, stationary...)
If you are recording the session, have you checked that the recording devices are working properly?
Do you have enough chairs, water bottles and nametags for the participants?
Does your note-taker know what information needs to be captured and what format works best for you?
6. Relax and enjoy facilitating the workshop
Have you explained the purpose of the workshop and their rights as participants?
Have you asked for permission before you start recording the session?
Are you giving all participants the same opportunities to talk?
Are you vigilant in not asking leading questions, sharing your opinion or making judgments?
Are you keeping an eye on the time during the session to make sure you don’t run overtime?
Have you thanked your participants for their contributions and informed them of any next steps?
7. Analyse and document the outcomes
What were the outcomes of the workshop?
What were the common trends across the different participants?
What were the divergences between the participants?
Any interesting anecdotes or powerful personal stories?
Have you answered all your research questions or do you need more research?
What is the best format to document and share the findings from the workshop with others?
Any learning for the next time you run a workshop?
The key challenge of preparing workshops
In my experience, selecting the right activities is crucial for running a successful workshop and obtaining the outcomes you want from the session.
The decision of what activities to use should be based on your research objectives and the profile of your participants, but the options are endless and writing the workshop script it’s not an easy task. On one hand, if you don’t have much experience running workshops, it can be a little overwhelming and you probably don’t know where to start writing your script. On the other hand, if you are an experienced professional, it’s easy to end up resorting to activities you have used recently, instead of considering other options.
That’s why, at Sitback, we have been working on a toolkit for preparing UX workshops. It started as an internal tool to help our team run workshops more efficiently, but we are about to test a beta version of the toolkit with other UXers.
This is an overview of some of the activities that will be included in the toolkit:
UNDERSTANDING MENTAL MODELS
> Timeline to understand processes or journeys
> Mind-map to understand user relationships with specific industries/products.
> Card sorting to understand users' mental model for a specific domain
BRAINSTORMING AND CO-CREATION
> Post-its to generate new ideas individually and then build upon others ideas
> Sketches to generate new ideas by tapping into a different part of the brain
> Paper prototype to involve people in the early stages of the design process
> Assigning dots to prioritise options using a limited amount of dots per person
> Distributing money to prioritise options using a limited amount per person
> X/Y axis to prioritise options based on 2 dimensions (e.g. urgency vs. effort)
> Mark in Red/Green to identify strengths & weakness of current designs
> Edit/Add/Remove to get input, refine, or complete a list of requirements
> Picture cards to gather personal options and feelings about a specific topic.
The toolkit provides more information about when it’s best to use each activity, detailed instructions, follow-up questions, tips and a workshop script template.