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Types of workshops and when to use them in your design process

A workshop is a place for team members, stakeholders, and all participants, to give time and space specifically for idea generation and hands-on activities that work towards a common goal.

What is a UX Workshop?

A UX workshop is a collaborative session, which is used to solve problems, enable progress, and attack challenges from different angles throughout the design timeline.

A workshop should not be mistaken for a traditional meeting. A traditional meeting is set up with the purpose of sharing information, while a workshop’s purpose is to solve a problem, develop a plan, or reach a decision. The scope of a workshop is also very different from that of traditional meetings where there is a shallow coverage of various topics, whereas a workshop goes in-depth on one particular subject. The length and structure of workshops also vary with relation to customary meetings, typically measured in half-hours, or hours, and led by one person in particular; whereas a workshop is a half-day or whole day event that requires active involvement from all participants. 

Are you trying to decide whether a UX workshop is appropriate for your situation? A good rule of thumb is remembering that Meetings are for project updates or general awareness discussions. Workshops require greater input and consensus from diverse groups and would benefit from a greater sense of shared ownership.

Ideation Workshops

What is it? 

Ideation is the process of generating a broad set of ideas on a given topic, with no attempt to judge or evaluate them. In other words, it’s the perfect opportunity to explore all sorts of unusual and seemingly crazy ideas… but remember, a  solid ideation methodology broadens your idea-generation capacity. An ideation workshop has three main characteristics; first, ideas are not evaluated, and judgement of ideas is postponed in order to have the most participation without fear of evaluation- since evaluation stifles creativity; second, all of the ideas are recorded and the session is documented- you can use any sort of documenting the process that will help to best capture each idea before they drift off into space; lastly, while individual ideation is great, an ideation workshop benefits from collaboration and diverse ideas that a group provides. The goal of ideation is a high-quality design that solves a specified problem, the focus of ideation is quantity instead of quality. Ideation is only one step in the full UX design process; once ideas are generated, separate analysis has to follow to decide which ideas (or parts of ideas) to pursue. The more ideas the better: a broad pool to choose from increases the likelihood that one of the ideas will be the seed for a great design solution. 

When to do it? 

Ideation happens at the very beginning of a project. It is important that it includes multiple stakeholders, and resources from various departments in order to ideate and come up with “outside the box” solutions, with barely any constraints. It is important that this happens at the very start of a project since it is then up to the designers to align the ideas given throughout an ideation workshop with the scope of the project being undertaken. A designer does this by assessing each idea by the three fundamentals of design thinking: desirability, viability, and feasibility. Although we do stress the importance of an ideation workshop at the very beginning of a project, these can really come in handy at any stage of the design process, in order to revisit given ideas or innovate on the ones being used.

Discovery Workshop

What is it?

A Discovery workshop is where project planning and milestones are established. This workshop establishes stakeholder expectations, determines additional research plans and builds a mutual understanding of the project – a vision. The goal of a discovery workshop is to understand the business requirements at the start of the project, to gather existing knowledge from customers, stakeholders and teams and come to an agreement on priorities and plans – and communicate it to the right people.

When to do it? 

A discovery workshop is typically done at the initial stages of a project, or a given phase within the process. The first important discovery workshop should happen right after the project initiation, in order to gather key information as a team and create alignment in terms of milestones and goals. Another advisable place to have a discovery workshop is after a milestone, in the subphases of the design process, where core trams can have their own specific alignments and goals.

Empathy Workshops 

What is it? 

An empathy workshop is set up in order to understand and prioritize the needs of the user, identify them with the stakeholders in order to start designing a solution. An empathy workshop is used to identify who the relevant users and customers are, gain deeper insight into their needs, motivations and overall behaviour, all with the goal of building empathy for the users among team members and stakeholders. This is important since it shifts the perspective of designing from feature-first mindset to user-first mindset, which pays off in the long run by generating future directions from user insights.

When to do it?

There is added value to having multiple empathy workshops throughout the design process. The very beginning of a project is the perfect opportunity to share existing user insight with the design team and the stakeholders which allows them to re-focus their mindset towards the consumers’ needs. Another potential space for the empathy workshop throughout the design process would be after user research or testing. This empathy workshop would then serve to share the results of the research and establish new directions or potential pain areas.

Innovation Workshops

What is it? 

An innovation workshop is a place for rapid idea-generation across multiple disciplines. This workshop is the space where shared ownership of a project really shines through, where others are invited into participating in creation, ideation, and of course innovation. It involves people from different teams in order to broaden perspectives, and input, as well as generate varying ideas for a well-defined design challenge. 

When to do it?

Ideas are ALWAYS welcome, but sometimes when they are not in the context of a workshop they can cause the team to lose track of priorities or see how this idea functions across disciplines can take up our most valuable resource: time. It is important however to make space for ideas to be heard, and this is exactly what the innovation workshop is set up for. Usually, they take place at the start of a project, in order to establish co-ownership of ideas and the design process. It is also common after user research is conducted, in order to share the findings as well as use them to generate input on solutions and features. The innovation workshop can also be useful after the initial design phase, in order to explore and map out user flow.

Prioritization Workshops 

What is it? 

Basically, this is the place where a team develops an action plan or a roadmap. A prioritization workshop is where the census is built on the importance and the value of each feature or element, from the viewpoint of the customers, and other stakeholders. This workshop is intended to do three major things: rank the ideas and features, agree on which goals to prioritize and above all create focus. In a prioritization workshop, it can be very useful to have insights from users on the features or items that they value the most. 

When to do it? 

There are commonly three occasions during a design process where prioritization workshops are most useful. First, at the onset of the project when initiatives are high but resources need to be managed in best priority. Later on, during user research, it is also advisable to bring together users so as to influence the prioritization of the developing feature. And lastly, prioritization workshops can help once the design is underway, but direction needs to be re-established.

Critique Workshops

What is it?

In its essence, a critique workshop is to ensure that the design decisions made are aligned with the needs of the product user. These workshops are a space to evaluate existing elements such as design or content, with the lens of what the user needs, usually coming up with fast solutions for the optimization of the product. User flow is closely examined, screen by screen or through the eyes of a specific user persona or group. Generally, a critique workshop is a place to hear the perspectives from varied experts in different job functions together. Here is where we can understand how well the design of our product scores against the usability heuristics, and design principles set forth by the team, as well as explore the designs of the competition, and aspirational products with elements and qualities that you want to achieve. A good critique workshop will note long-term optimizations for product evolution, in addition to the next phase of design. 

When to do it? 

A critique workshop should be set up as a checkpoint in the higher-level design process, it is useful to begin a new project and to come back to this kind of workshop throughout the design process. The most common opportunities to launch a critique workshop are at the initiation of a project, in order for the team to review the current design against well-known goals and principles to create and mould the new design. Furthermore, it is advised to keep dropping in critique workshops along the design cycle to stay on track.

Laura Brazay

Laura Brazay

Digital branding specialist with experience in social media strategy, and a background in Business Administration, who sees life in the full spectrum of colours. I spend my free time taking long walks exploring the city with my pup.

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