Running productive UX Workshops

image of people at workship

We do love to run Workshops in UX and why not?

Whether it is a feedback or co-creation session with customers or a strategy or product development meeting with internal teams; workshops are a creative, fun and efficient way to gain insights and generate new ideas.  And they have the added benefit of keeping key groups of people at the centre of the design process.   However, unfortunately workshops also have the potential to descend into frustrating unproductive talking shops. Especially if they have been poorly thought-out or lack structure.

Having been part of, and run a number of UX workshops over the years, some more successful than others, here are my top takeaways or tactics we can employ to run more effective UX Workshops. 

  • Agree goals of workshop with key business owners prior to the workshop

Spending time discussing goals and aims of the workshop with key business owners prior to workshop makes sure everyone is on the same page before the workshop starts. It might sound obvious but last thing you want is a key player derailing the process mid workshop because they were unclear about what was going on/didn’t agree with goals.

  • Ensure all the participants are clear on aims, outcomes and roles  

Everyone appreciates being well informed on what is going to happen and what is expected of them in the session.   Letting participants know what you are trying to achieve and why,  helps them keep on track in discussions and activities.   So make all of this explicit from the onset.  I attended an excellent facilitation course from Meeting Magic a couple of years ago who brought this all together in what they called OARRs.  Explain the OARRS to everyone.

OARRS image

#Tip Write the aims of the workshop on a flip chart and hang them on the wall so you can refer back to them throughout.  This is especially useful when the conversations get a bit ‘foggy’.

  • Think details and be prepared

Don’t be derailed mid workshop when you realise you don’t have the blue post-its you need for a particular activity or you suddenly find out you are unable to stick stuff on walls. Know the room set-up in advance, prepare your activities and ensure you have everything you need for those activities ready, right down to the last sharpie.

#Tip Always have spare post-its and sharpies a the ready – after all, it is a UX Workshop!

  • Include an ice-breaker

Don’t be fooled into thinking ice-breakers or silly are a waste of time.
Whether its a workshop with a group who know each other or not, icebreakers are a great way to put people at ease.  Also having participants  say or do something straight off the bat puts them a better frame of mind for when they start the proper activities. Icebreaker can also set the tone for the session, turning a stiff formal atmosphere into a more relaxed and friendly one.

#Tip I like to keep ice-breakers simple, like ‘tell us something interesting about yourself that no one else in the group knows’ but that might just be me playing safe!

  • Think hard about activities/conversations that need to take place

Think about what discussions/activities do you need to happen within the workshop in order to achieve the outcomes you want. Never assume you will just arrive at your goals. Do you need to get feedback on wireframes? Are you looking to generate new ideas? Etc. Think about how are you going to facilitate those discussions and which activities can you introduce to make that happen.

Gamstorming book

Tip# Some excellent free Resources on Gamestorming website of different workshop activities.
Tip# To avoid group think, include some activities where participants can have some individual thinking time. This could be as simple as having participants write down their own thoughts down on post-it before sharing with group.

  • Think about the balance, flow and structure of the workshop

Flow does not happen by chance:rather, it’s down to you as facilitator to plan for this. Think hard about the agenda to ensure you have the right balance of activities and discussions and enough time for participants to run through them. Think about where, you as a facilitator, need to step in summarise and then move people through the agenda.

Tip# Of course have an agenda and planned structure but remember workshops are often creative processes and sometimes take you on unexpected paths, so do allow some flexibility.  Referring back to aims will keep you on track.  Also, having a ‘park it’ wall for conversation and thoughts that are outside of scope often helps move conversations on.

  • Don’t underestimate how much people love stickers or chocolate

We often want to encourage participants to be creative and think outside the box.  We therefor need to create activities and a fun atmosphere that encourages them to do so. Voting exercises, exercises involving stickers, labels, different shapes and colours give participants the opportunity to dive in and let their creative juices flow.  Never estimate the power of chocolate as a prizes for contribution. It works.   Doughnuts at the beginning of a session work well too.

#Tip if you are running a creative workshop, allow participants to draw their own name labels in colours and/or with stickers, it sets the tone for the session.

  • Record outputs, ensure a strong closing to the workshop and outline next steps

Workshops can be messy and it is our job as a facilitator to bring everything back together at the end of the workshop, check goals have been achieved and outline next steps. Ensure the session is closed in the same strong clear manner it was opened and that everyone knows what happens next and what their role will be.

And have fun! 🙂





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s