UX Australia – Workshop: Turbocharge your workshops

The one workshop I attended at UX Australia this year was by Andy Budd (@andybudd) from Clearleft – and it was called “Turbo-charge your workshops”. It’s affectionately known as “the workshop on workshopping”.

This was a great mix of discussion and hands on practical facilitation. In the matter of a half a day workshop, Andy discussed and introduced the idea of design games, and then as groups we managed to run high level workshops from concept all the way through to design.

The book reference is: Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers

My copy just arrived, it looks great.  The companion site for this: http://www.gogamestorm.com/ which is great – I’ve provided the relevant links in the post as well.

Here are my notes from the workshop.

The current state of meeting culture

It’s really difficult to get productive without buy-in.
Meetings are typically very expensive.
And we tend to fail on general meeting rules like setting agendas, getting action points.

But meetings can be productive, if managed correctly.
We need to apply design thinking approach to meetings.


Meetings aren’t broken – people are.

We tend to have lots of comments and biases.
We are easily led and susceptible to “group think”
We are strongly influenced by social hierarchy
We tend to overvalue our own ability, and undervalue others
Loss aversion means we tend to stick to our first ideas.
We are bad at estimating future states – we tend to look through rose coloured glasses and assume that everything will go right.

We need to design structures that mitigate biases. We need to become expert facilitators.
Good UX people are good facilitators.
We help people make sense of the chaos.

Good Meetings are not hard.

Here’s some principles. Even though they seem fairly straightforward and standard, it’s amazing how often we don’t do them.

1. Set Agenda

2. Be strict on time – timeboxing is a very useful skill

3. Define meeting outcomes

4. Have defined roles
e.g. a Facilitator to take notes, a time keeper, a note-taker. Remember that the meeting owner is not necessarily the facilitator.

Think of workshops as a design activity that helps even out commenting biases.
They make things more active, more tangible. It’s about solving problems in a group context.

Why design games?

“Games” are a great way to facilitate a meeting because:
They are collaborative
They have a shared set of rules that everyone adheres to
They have structure – a start, a middle, an end. People know and understand the tempo.
They are great for team bonding or client bonding (building rapport). You could even split up agency staff with clients for client relationship building.

Planning the workshop

1. What kind of workshop is it? What’s the goal?

2. Who do you invite?
- Those responsible for the results
- Those responsible for doing
- Those impacted by results
- Those who can feed in useful info

3. Structure your workshops
- Plan timeslots. And don’t forget to plan the time in the middle. Be realistic. Schedule in time for chit chat.
- Plan standups at odd times can help people arrive on time. Like 9:57am.
- Build culture through meetings

4. Set the Scene
Good facilitators are energy catalysts.

Design Game examples

Games for understanding the business context

These games are for understanding the client’s motivations for the business

1. SWOT Analysis

Most of us have heard of and used the typical SWOT analysis. Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats.

This is useful for brainstorming with stakeholders, such as high level management, to really understand how they see the the project and the opportunities.

View instructions on GoGamestorm.com

2. Context Map

The context map uses six sheets of paper organised into two rows of three. On each sheet, the headings are as below:

Top row: _____ Trends, Client (Political factors, Economic climate), _____ Trends

Bottom row: Technology factors, Customer needs, Uncertainties

Spending a timeboxed amount of time on each sheet, the facilitator gets the group to fill in either the Client, Technology factors, Customer needs and Uncertainties – in an order determined by the group.

At the end, they discuss and determine what type of trends to look at, depending on what’s appropriate – and then fill in trends sheets.

At the end of the workshop, you’ve essential drawn out a context map to work from.

View instructions on GoGamestorm.com

Games for concepting the product vision

1. Design the Box

“If this was a physical product, what would the design of the box look like?”

Ways to play:

- with physical boxes

- with pieces of paper representing the sides of the box (which actually works better as you get a better level of fidelity)

What’s nice about design the box is the fact that you have limited space – It’s not about designing the details.

At the end of the session, each group has 1 min to sell the box – which is a process of consolidation. Defining why the box is designed the way that it is.

People begin to see that each other’s view of the box is different. And often this showcases that often, there isn’t a shared vision.

View Instructions on GoGamestorm.com

2. Elevator Pitch

“For (target customer) who has (customer need), (product name) is a (market category) that (one key benefit). Unlike (competition), the product (unique differentiator).”

This is a great way of distilling down the scope of the project.  As they say on the Gamestorming site: What is important is that the group decides on what is and is not a part of the pitch.

View Instructions on GoGamestorm.com

Games for feature prioritisation

Affinity Map

I didn’t really bother writing notes for this one, as most of us know of, or have done this before.

The key point I found interesting that I haven’t personally used before is using dot-voting as a way to settle arguments or to get a sense of prioritisation.

View instructions on GoGamestorm.com

Games for Designing

6-up – 1-up

I couldn’t really find this one on the gamestorming site. But this game is for sketching ideas for a page, a component, a function, etc and really focuses on design synthesis.

What’s really interesting is putting the pencil in the hands of stakeholders – allowing them to get their ideas across – and for them to begin to see their fingerprints in the design. It think generally this idea of fostering a sense of ownership, which I cover in my 10 min talk (will put this up soon), is really key. It builds empathy

Begin individually, rapidly sketch 6 ideas (timeboxed). Then synthesise down to 1 idea. Then share with the group, explaining core ideas.

Then, depending on group size, pair people up, and collaboratively iterate the idea, again using 6 up, then 1 up – and share with the group again. Continue, increasing group size depending on how many people you have in your group.


Good facilitators are:

- upbeat and encouraging
- command the attention of the room
- are good at improvising
- are non-critical, and reserve judgement (don’t let the key stakeholders be the facilitators)
- active listeners (make it obvious you are listening)
- good at spotting and highlighting interesting trends
- get the best out of the group, know how to work the room

Other notes:

How long games run for depends on the level of fidelity you want, and the outcome you want to achieve. But you need to be flexible.

It’s still your job to do the analysis. It’s important to be clear that it’s not design by committee. It’s requirements gathering.

All in all, I think Andy hit the nail on the head when he said that good UX people are good facilitators. Increasingly I think a large part of our role as UX practitioners is as mediators, and expert stakeholder managers.  Being a good workshop facilitator is just one of the many tools to have in our UX toolkit, but definitely one I’m focusing on passionately this year.