DU013 – Design Workshops

What is a design workshop and how can you run one effectively? Chris and Carla talk about this mysterious UX activity.

Season 0 - Getting Untangled
Season 0 - Getting Untangled
DU013 - Design Workshops

What is a design workshop? Who should be in it? How do you tell people to be quiet without making them hate you? How do you achieve the right outcomes?

The answer to these questions and many more in unlucky (and slightly late) episode 13 of Design Untangled.


Episode: DU013 – Design Workshops Host: Chris Mears and Carla Lindarte

(00:00) Chris: Hello and welcome to Design Untangled with me Chris Mears and for once actually with me is Carla Lindarte.

(00:08) Carla: Hello Chris. I have not been doing this for awhile.
(00:12) Chris: Yes, you have been out chatting to some very interesting people. (00:15) Carla: Yes.

(00:15) Chris: Kieron and Emma, so had quite a lot of feedback around those, which is very good, very positive. Lots of lessons, hopefully, they were useful and made it worth the price of us not chatting to each other for once.

(00:30) Carla: Yes. (00:30)  

Chris: I don’t think people really cared to be honest.

Carla: Yes. They just care about the content and I think we need to do more of those interviews. It is really good to kind of mix it up, have interviews as well as us talking, I think that people really like that.

(00:45) Chris: Yes, we will definitely try and do some more of those in the future. So what are we going to talk about on episode number 13?

(00:54) Carla: Well, we are going to talk about something that I think most of us have been, even involved in, even as a participant or run in the past. If you are a designer, I am pretty sure you have run or participated in a design workshop. They are called, some people call them design studios, other people call it Design Thinking Workshops, but the idea of this is basically, just to come up with ideas to solve a problem, a particular problem. Whether it is a solution, like a digital solution or a service solution, it does not really matter. It is just going through, using certain design process to come up with, creative ideas to solve problems. They also have also run them as well as a training exercise for clients. I do not know if you have done that in the past, but clients come in into the agency or you go to their offices and you have run them to show them a new way of solving, a problem solving, which is design thinking.

(01:57) Chris: Yes I have never called that a design workshop. They more just a training thing really. They are just another of those terms that can be used for that 4,000 different things, which of course, next good fodder for this podcast. And so what sorts of people would you typically have in one of your design workshops?

(02:18) Carla: Well, as I said before, it all depends on the purpose of the workshops. As you said, if it is just a design, at design workshop or design studio, you can run it with, people in the team, Designers as well as, for example, product owners and technology people. If we have access to them, strategists, as many people as possible and with different backgrounds, that is better. When I have run them in the past for clients, it is the same. We were, solving a problem that, impacts the customer. We will have people from different parts of the organization, to have different points of view, as well as what potentially as solutions could be for that particular customer type. It all depends and I think that the most successful ones, are the ones that have more variety of backgrounds, a more diverse set of stakeholders, rather than just designers or just, a particular part of the, of the business.

(03:21) Chris: Yeah, I would agree with that. Also, where they come into the project to a sprint life cycle. It’s typically towards the beginning. So if you’re kicking off a project for the first time, their design workshop is very common and good way to do that because you can bring people who may not be directly involved in the project day to day, but then making key decisions or signing off the budgets or whatever. And it is a way of getting them to buy into the user center design process, as well` for them actually participating.

(03:54) Carla: Exactly. It is really good to get everyone together. As you said, typically at the beginning, although when you have, maybe a controversial topic of fame, coming up in the, in the project, it is also a very good time to run a workshop to kind of align everyone to why we want to do it this way or that way, and create solutions together. I also think that when, teams I actually losing interest or feeling disengaged with the product as well or the product features a salsa, very good to run workshops. So, it is a way of getting everyone together and co-creating as a way of solving the problem together.

(04:40) Chris: It’s nuts. They’re not strictly designed workshops, but it is very often you find as the UX designer, you are facilitating these other conversations. So I have not called it a designed workshop, but it is basically just been a workshop with the product owners, the product team, better understand their user needs and prioritize the backlog. So the output is not always designed, but it’s moving the project forward towards an ultimate solution.

(05:06) Carla: Yes, definitely. You mentioned it there and it is really, really important that if we are talking about design thinking workshops or user centered design workshops, we need to make sure that we bring in, as an input into the workshop as much, user research, insights, recent research or insights that you’ve done, to kind of inform the team about, what are the needs of that particular user, especially when talking about customers. Sometimes we make a lot of assumptions and you know, as design teams we get together and we brainstorm. But the more insight you actually have from that particular end user that you’re designing for, The more successful and the less biased, a solution is going to be. So, from works, I have done in the past where, if I’ve done some kind of [inaudible00:06:00] research for example, I bring it in and it just kind of start the session with that. These are our top five learnings, from that primary research or if you do some market research or competitive analysis, all that sort of stuff. I normally would start a workshop with that. So then people get a nonverbal understanding of the end user on the market and everything else that is going to help with the ideation.

(06:28) Chris: Yes That is especially important at the very beginning of the project where obviously, you have not started it yet, so you have not necessarily been out in the fields to speak to users, but you can come with free doing some of that desk research and other sources the business may have already. You can come to that workshop armed with a lesson, a strong hypothesis about different user behavior and needs.

(06:52) Carla: Yes, definitely. I have actually used in the past, even YouTube videos and stuff like that. If you talk about customers, I know sometimes you find really random videos, but sometimes you find very interesting videos on YouTube or in social media as well, people what people are actually saying about the product. What are the most difficult pain points. So even if you do not have access to that kind of qualitative insight from the beginning, you could find other ways to find the information. And the more you bring into the workshop, the better in my experience.

(07:27) Chris: Yeah. So I think it’s worth digging into the details a bit more about what you would actually be doing in those workshops. Some of the stuff I have done, there has been user journey mapping, so you split people into groups or not depending how big the group is and basically get them to kind of draw out what a user’s journey would be free the product. And that can be the existing product to where it can be sort of a future end state, happy path version. And again, that is using all the inputs that you bring to that workshop in terms of user needs and research and stuff like that. No, I should say actually before you do that, sometimes it’s worth doing kind of pen port traits or prototypes owners or go back to our [inaudible 00:08:14] episode to hear all the different terms for those, but at least an outline of who you think those customers or users are going to be and then the participants in the workshop and kind of put themselves in their shoes when they’re mapping out those journeys.

(08:30) Carla: Yes, definitely. I mean that is what I was going to say. It is really important to start from the user types. And try to divide the groups, give a user type per group or something like that. And they can actually, start fleshing out, detailing a bit more, what this personas, user types are; what their pain points are; where their success factors are; and display, painting a picture of that is going to help them, be more empathetic to the actual user type. And then as you said, continue with the use of journeys, which is the kind of the next step as you said.

(09:11) Chris: Yes. And then you can use those journeys as a basis for further discussions about what potential features might be. Or another good activity is kind of sketching out someone’s ideal home page. I found just to surface what people see the value is in the product they were offering to those users, what the users would want to see on that home page. And then that can kick off discussions around, so how might we go about building this? Is there anything else similar out there at the moment? And they are all just tools for kicking off discussions between different people in the business, really getting those conversations happening, identifying gaps. And one of the key outputs from the workshop is assigning those gaps in knowledge, to people that can start to fill them in because the less uncertainty you have got in your project, the better.

(10:06) Carla: Yeah, definitely. I mean, another thing that I have used in the past, is this framework When you actually put in together the year’s journey, you can actually start asking people to think about how this particular persona user types, actually thinking, where are they actually saying and what are they actually feeling. You know, the thinking, saying and feeling frameworks actually really good cause he makes you go through all the different types of aspects that you’d need to think about when that persona or user type is going through that journey. And then once you start identifying, the best are the Asian in my opinion, obviously. Depending on the problem that you’re trying to solve. it happens when you kind of narrowed it down a little bit, to one particular point or maybe a couple. When you’re trying to be too broad, then people are going to try, going to get a confused and then they’re going to start saying things that might not be relevant to the particular problem that you’re solving.

(11:07) Chris: After they have done that user journey, what I would recommend is that you get them to prioritize or at least to work as a team either using voting or just having conversations about, okay we are going to focus on this particular part of the journey or maybe these two steps are for the ideation. Then that kind of helps, teams to narrow it down to be more specific about the solution that they are going to then prototype. And then, also I think it also is very good to do what do, IDSS about, generating a lot of ideas. So the more ideas you can generate as possible, so you pick your problem area, then you get the team to generate as many ideas as possible. And you know the idea of size about yes and, so just asking people to build on top of other people’s ideas.

(11:57) Carla: Rather than saying, no, this is my idea. You have to set the ground rules for the ideation and then as a team, again, prioritizing and voting which wants, which idea is best. Then going into prototyping. It is a little bit like, I do not want it say that we need to restrict people, but when you, workshops to be successful, you have to create a rules around how you want people to actually do things. Otherwise, it can go too broad or too crazy. Maybe they do not, they do not really experiment and explore more ideas and they go very focused on one particular solution. So I think you have to manage that as a facilitator.

(12:48) Chris: Yeah. And one of the key ways you can do that is just to put really harsh time limits on how long they are allowed to do stuff. So crazy eight says a very common sort of template for sketching ideas. So it’s basically just eight boxes on a piece of paper or whatever. And you want people to smash out eight different ideas for the particular question. You’re looking at, they are normally limited to, you know, you get people 30 seconds per box or less if you’re in a bad mood. And, and that does two things. It helps the workshop run more quickly obviously, but it also stops people getting so attached to one particular idea that they cannot move on. And it also helps when the groups playing it back and questioning it, it means they are not too kind of protective, of what they have done because you know, they only spent 30 seconds on it. So who cares? And it just helps enable that constructive feedback in the group.

(13:44) Carla: Yes, definitely. I also think that as you said, having templates is such a good thing. Like when you have a template of a user journey for example, and even if it’s just a piece of paper or a slide on the screen, which you have clarified, what the frame, when you want people to do and what steps they will want you to follow. And if you have just like an, an 83 a piece of paper, a template with, this is how we want you to generate ideas. It just helps you to, to understand what they need to do sometimes. What, because we are designers and when we run, workshops with designers, the ideation and the creation of ideas and prototyping kind of comes more natural. But then when you have stakeholders that not necessarily, or they do not consider themselves creative, the more tools you give them to understand what you want them to do, the better. So templates definitely also having all sorts of material on the table, like materials, post-its, different type and you know, sizes, um, different types of sharpies. Play-doh, sometimes I’ve had with Lego or whatever. So just give people, even sometimes I have used cards that kind of represent features or products or you know, something like that. So helping people to, do things, and not necessarily restrict themselves by saying, I am not creative. I cannot prototype, I can draw. So you know the more tools you give them the better.

(15:16) Chris: Yes. Lego is a really good one actually. So there’s a whole school of using Lego for kind of solving problems and helping teams very often used in an agile settings these days. Something a bit different, a bit fun. But I remember one thing we were doing a while ago on a project I did too, we were doing a retrospective and the agile coach who you may remember from previous episode called, Clive. He got us to, it was the end of the project and he wanted us to sort of represent how we thought the project had gone. Like overall say he asked us to create something out of Lego that we felt represented how we felt the project had gone. So everyone created very diverse things, some reliant because one was like a sort of a hill thing, because we had climbed up this obstacle or whatever. And it may sound a bit cheesy, but again it’s just a way of getting people who may not otherwise actually say things to talk about stuff. And it can uncover quite a lot of interesting nuggets if you just keep asking, why did you use that particular color Lego or whatever? And it can actually be quite an interesting way of digging into stuff.

(16:33) Carla: Yes, definitely. That makes me also, highlight the importance of icebreakers. I know we, sometimes we find a beat like cringy or cannot be bothered to do icebreakers. When you find a very good icebreaker for an ideation session is actually very, very useful because get people start thinking about oh, I need to actually be a bit more grateful. Need to think about how I can collaborate with my team. So one good one I have used recently was, you put in two different backs in one bag. You could different brands and in the other bag to food products, all things, you know. So the idea is that people pick one item from one cart from each bag. So you could end up with, something like okay, Coca-Cola as a brand and, they think would be a car.

(17:29) Carla: So then you have to come up with an idea of how Coke, Coca Cola will design or build a car, and it gives you a flavor of, so how much, being a bit more creative. It is a bit funny as well because sometimes the combination are very random. So, something like that. And there is lots of lots of things on the Internet. Where you can find icebreakers, but they actually quite important and depending on the length of the session. So sometimes if you just have it for three hours, you just do it once. But then if you have a one day workshop, which sometimes, I’ve done that in the past, so you could actually do one in the morning and do another one after lunch. So when people come back from lunch, so then it just gets, the energy flowing throughout the day.

(18:18) Chris: Yes, the energy definitely takes a nose dive after lunch, that is for sure.

(18:23) Carla: Yes. I would not recommend to do very, very long sessions, but sometimes you cannot. You just have to do it. Do you know?

(18:31) Chris: On the Slack channel which I will plug in a little bit. We had quite a lot of questions around the actual facilitation of a workshop and dealing with different kinds of stakeholders, people management, that sort of stuff. And I would say that whole thing. We will give you some tips now obviously, but workshops are one thing that you just have to practice doing. Basically. There is no kind of course that is going to teach you at least very well in my opinion, how to do this effectively. You’re going to get burned a few times. You’re going to have to deal with awkward people. It’s not something you can sort of watch a few YouTube videos and pickup or do a an online UX course and then come out of it knowing how to facilitate a UX workshop. It’s definitely trial and error.

(19:22) Carla: Yes, definitely. And also it also fails, one advice I give to people who have not done that too many of this is that you have to just go with the flow and be flexible as well. Yes, you have a plan and yes you want people to do certain things, but each team and each group would react so differently to what you were expecting. Then even though you give them templates and as I said, it’s really good to make sure everyone does, the activities in the same way. Sometimes you just have to go with the flow. You have to cut parts of what you were thinking you were going to do, because people are taking longer. So, advice is just go with it. I tried to be as charismatic as possible. tried to be as nice as possible and just go with what you feel. The feeling of the group rather than trying to force yourself onto people and trying to make them things, do things that they do not want it to.

(20:22) Chris: The one thing I would say you do have to watch out for though, which is quite common, is they’ll normally be one or maybe even two people that will, you’ll be able to spot them pretty rapidly. But basically they’ll try and take over the workshop. And they like, oh, I think we should do it this way or wouldn’t this way be better? They can be tricky to deal with. You’ve kind of just got to show you’re listening, taking their ideas on board. It’s useful to have a parking lot on a whiteboard or a flip chart or something where you can just write down stuff that crops up and say, thanks to your input and we’ve got a bit of time set aside at the end of the workshop and we’ll, just write it down so they show you’ve listened and revisit at the end once you’ve got free the core stuff that you want to get free.

(21:12) Carla: That is the most important thing, as a Parking Lot. It is just so useful when you have these annoying stakeholders who just ask many questions or stop, interrupt and try to reinforce their ideas ,of the people you just need to like Parking Lot is really, really useful.

(21:30) Chris: Because group thing is another thing you’ve got to watch out for, which is normally the group who just sort of start agreeing with whoever’s speaking the loudest. So you have to make sure that you’re bringing other people into the conversation as well. Again, it takes a bit of practice to sort of spot the shy ones or the ones that are holding back a little bit and just ask them directly, Jeff, what do you think about this? What’s your view? And just call them out a little bit and once you’ve done it once or twice they’ll get the idea and they’ll start just chipping in so that you do not pick on them anymore.

(22:05) Carla: I also think, it’s depending on the size of the group that you have, but when the group is really big, let’s say you have around, I wouldn’t have more than six people in the team. Then you have, about four or five teams of six people. For example, we ship from workshops like that in the past. It’s actually really useful to have a table facilitator, because as a main facilitator of the session, you’ll be busy. Like I am [inaudible 00:22:33] checking up the time, making sure everyone is doing what they need to do, et cetera. But then you won’t have the time to actually spend time with each team and make sure that, everyone is contributing and everyone’s talking. So having a table facilitor, if you have access to a group of people that you can maybe meet up before the session, explain what you want them to do. I mean, ideally that they would have a little bit of experience running the sessions in the past is really, really helpful because then they could actually make a, you know, play that role within the table. Um, rather than you as the main facilitator doing everything.

(23:10) Chris: Yeah, that is a very good tip. It’s definitely good to have some helpers on hand if you can, not least cause it’s a bit of a friendly face in the room if you’re crapping your pants a bit and that, yeah, they can help do some of the sort of admin and floating around and making sure everyone’s kind of getting their input in the workshop as well. So I am going to have a look through our questions. What else we got? So there was one around, I think we sort of covered it rarely. So how do you deal with stakeholders fraying out crazy ideas that do not make sense? Parking Lot, I would say. Sometimes I would also say ideas can sound crazy, but if you dig into the why behind them a little bit more, that can occasionally be some useful stuff there. Put it in the parking lot, generally address it at the end of the session.

(24:06) Carla: I also think then in a team, for example, I have also, used these in the past, because it all depends on how, how much the ideas we want out of the workshop to be actually an actual input into a project or solution. I mean sometimes we do these just to kind of bring everyone together or to train people or to show them a different way of thinking. But sometimes we do these to actually make decisions. So there is a nice framework, that you can use, for prioritization of ideas that is, you combined what feasibility, desirability and viability of the idea. So you give people different, color dots or something and you say, okay, what do you think is the idea that is the, most feasible one? So is it doable with the technology these days?

(24:57) Carla: Is it doable within timeframe we have, then we say, how desirable do you think this is? Is the customer going like this? Or is this really crazy? Or where is the insight that is informing this idea? And the other one which is really important is their viability. So how likely is your company to actually do these because even though it is feasible and you have the technology maybe that it has a massive impact into the marketing team and they cannot really do that or whatever the viability of the idea is and then the idea that has the majority of the posts, the votes around these three areas are the ideas you take forward so easily. It’s a nice way to get people thinking about, okay, an idea could be great, but how doable it is and how much people actually like it.

(25:48) Chris:: Another important thing I think that has to happen in a good workshop is for everyone to leave there knowing what is going to happen next. And sort of what the point of them being sat in the room for six hours was. I know, one of the goals can sometimes you just want people in that room to talk to each other. Even in those kinds of workshops, I think there is useful further action that you can take. And it’s important to just let everyone know about that because otherwise everyone would just go going, oh that was a waste of time then, cannot believe I wasted a whole day there. So it’s just important to keep everyone on board with the design process, make them understand why you did it. If it was, as a project kickoff essentially, then you know, set that out at the start, make sure everyone’s clear on that. If it is to solve a design problem, then let them know those ideas are going to be used after you leave that firm. How are they going to be taken forward, what more work needs to be done to kind of get answers to the questions you’ve got and all of that stuff’s a nice way to wrap up the end of the workshop.

(26:58) Carla: Definitely. It’s really, really important. People understand what’s next and you know, how they can keep getting involved. In the past, for example, we’ve used tools like, Real Time Board. Because once you finish the workshop you can then capture all their insights and ideas in a tool like a digital whiteboard and then you can get people to keep working on them remotely as well, which is great cause then it kind of like keep the team the momentum going around the ideas or the idea that was selected or whatever. So, you just need to make sure that you have a clear plan of what you want to get out of the workshop, and how you get people, a clear view of what people are going to be doing with that next.

(27:43) Chris: And depending how rich the company you work for is, I’ve been in workshops where they’ve employed kind of a sort of sketch artist type person to document the workshop in essentially sort of a cartoony style and a massive kind of whiteboard, as it goes along and just capture the ideas. That particularly for senior stakeholders I find found can be a nice kind of visual representation of what you’ve accomplished on that day. So we had one about encouraging non-designy people to join. I guess that means people outside maybe of the core project team. A good sneaky way of doing that is just a tag it on the end of some of the kind of project type meetings. So a sprint planning session. because then you can just guilt trip people into coming because they’re already sat there. So that is quite a nice little technique I use sometimes.

(28:38) Carla: I think also making sure that you say this is not, you do not have to be creative to come here. You didn’t have to, just come and we just need your input and your thoughts. Because some people think, oh I am not creative, I cannot draw, as I said before. And then that really puts them off because they think they need to be, you know, super creative when they got these worships.

(29:00) Chris: I have not got anything else? So I am going to go ahead and do some plugs. I’ve got a biggish plug to start off with, which is that we’ve re-launched our mentorship program. So what was previously, Codes: The UX Mentorship Program by UXR, which is not particularly catchy, can now be found at www.uxmentor.me and it’s a Slack group where myself, Carla and a bunch of other UX and research mentors, trying to just give advice and answer questions from people who are learning UX. We’ve actually got quite a few sort of more senior people in there as well, who are chipping in, which is great. It is up to, I think we got about 520 people or so, in there now, from all over the world. If you are looking to get some support or just meet other people that are taking UX courses, certainly got plenty of those in there and get advice on job interviews, stuff like that. You can sign up at www.uxmentor.me. Then we’ve got the more traditional Design Untangled plugs. So follow us on Twitter @designuntangled, websitedesignuntangled.uk. Individually. I am @Chris_Mears_UX on Twitter. And Carla is @CarlaLindarte or on Facebook probably Design Untangled, I would guess. And anything else?

(30:33) Carla: No, I just apologize for my horrible voice. I have a terrible cold so I am sorry about that. Yeah, no, that is it. Any feedback or any further questions about workshops, please send us through your questions. I have personally have a lot of experience running workshops, so any tips I can share with you, like checklists that you have to think about, all that sort of stuff. So whatever questions you have, please, please contact us.

(31:03) Chris: And what’s working quite well is people are having discussions about the podcasts and posing their questions for us to answer on the episodes on the Slack. So if you want to help shape future episodes, that is a good way to do it as well.

(31:17) Carla: That is a great thing. Alright, Chris, it was nice to talk to you again.

(31:23) Chris: It was very good just to be back in the habit. We are sorry that this one’s out a little bit late, but Easter got in the way and Carla’s dongo adapters got in the way and various other things.

(31:34) Carla: I just got a new job and it means new laptop, new everything. So it takes time to set all your tech up again.

(31:42) Chris: Where is that job? Are allowed to say?
(31:44) Carla: Yes, I am allowed to say. I am working for Google now. So yes, interesting. (31:52) Chris: Very posh.

(31:52) Carla: Yes. It is very, very posh, is not a design, design role, it is more in the kind of, I would say service design or product design area, it is not going to be UXC, as UXC, but a lot of, new learnings and new things that I can share as well with our listeners.

(32:13) Chris: And lots of good people to interview as well, I imagine.

(32:16) Carla: Yes. Can chase all these Googlers. Very good people, designers who work there. So I’ll try and get as many as I can.

(32:24) Chris: All right. I think that is enough rambling for now. So we will see you next time. Hopefully on our usual release date. So see you later.

(32:33) Carla: See you later.

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