How to get information from clients that they don’t know how to give

Written by Tyron Bache - July 6, 2020

Facilitating Effective UX Workshops

I’m sure you have been in many meetings or UX workshops that have been terrible, you could even say soul-destroying! I know I have, it is not fun for anyone and it’s a real waste of time and money. You know the ones I’m talking about, the dreaded afternoon UX workshop where everyone is suffering from post-lunch sluggishness, or the even more feared full-day meeting that could have been an email but because there’s always one person who enjoys the sound of their own voice, who ends up filling your day with their internal monologue.

As a Project Manager at Wholegrain Digital I am often running workshops so, when the team heard about the Facilitating UX Workshops full-day training course last November, I was keen to attend. The course was run by Kate Kaplan at the Nielsen Norman Group UX Conference in London. It was a great session, really insightful. Kate took us through the basics of running a workshop, the structure of them, facilitating and preparing for workshops as well as going through them in practice.

My interpretation of what she shared: If run effectively, UX Workshops are a great way to get information from clients they don’t necessarily know how to give.

Describing a user persona during a Discovery UX Workshop.
Describing a user persona during a Discovery UX Workshop.

What is a UX Workshop?

An in-depth group problem-solving session that, if run correctly, can shed light and advance a project.

“Workshops enable participants to come together for a concentrated time of idea generation and hands-on activities that allow them to achieve an actionable goal.”

Kate Kaplan

Getting Started

In order to set up your workshop to be a success, you need a group purpose and ground rules, without these you will struggle to have a successful workshop. The group purpose can simply be defined as “Where are we going?” and the ground rules as “How will we get there?”

Creating ground rules should be a group exercise that everyone can be a part of and take ownership of.

“Hey, a rule is a rule, and let’s face it, without rules there’s chaos.”


Five common types of UX Workshops

  1. Discovery UX Workshops establish a consensus for the project plans and phases. They usually happen near the start of a project or before a significant phase
  2. Empathy UX Workshops assist key people with figuring out and defining user needs before creating a solution. Like Discovery UX Workshops, they usually happen near the start of a project
  3. Design UX Workshops should be used by a varied group of attendees to quickly design a load of ideas. They can happen after some user research has taken place, as points from the research can be used as inspiration for the designs
  4. Prioritisation UX Workshops are used when the project team needs to decide on what to focus on and to make sure everyone is on the same page. During a project, this workshop can be used to help stop scope creep and to define what really needs to be done
  5. Critique UX Workshops confirm that what was designed or developed previously will be valuable and that these items meet the needs of the users. These can occur regularly as part of the design process.

Effective UX Workshop structure

An effective UX workshop structure should have an Opening, Exploration and Closing.

  • Opening: set the stage and make sure everyone is on the same page. Gather all of the information you believe you will need. Use the power of the group to generate ideas
  • Exploration: examine the gathered information, try different directions or approaches. This is your chance to experiment in a safe place
  • Closing: this is the time to make conclusions and decisions from the activities. Now is the time to define action steps to ensure the workshop was worth it.

How to get information from clients that they don’t know how to give

Now that you’re aware of the different types and what constitutes effective UX Workshops, let us explore how to get information from clients that they  don’t know how to give. This all comes down to the activities that you use throughout the workshop. Sarah Gibbons is Nielsen Norman Group’s Chief Designer and she has a super helpful model for conducting UX activities. She suggests three simple steps, outlined below.

UX activities: Explain, Execute & Examine

Step 1 – Explain:
The best place to start is at the beginning so before jumping in, introduce and explain the activity clearly.

Step 2 – Execute:
After explaining the activity clearly, get the participants to do what you’ve asked them to do. Top tip for this step is to not take part but rather help and observe.

Step 3 – Examine:
When everyone is done, or after a certain amount of time, review and examine the outcomes as a group in three parts:

  1. Present: Let each group share their work with the group
  2. Reflect: Ask reflective questions like “What did you get out of it?” or “What did you learn?”
  3. Connect: Join up what the team learnt together in the activity with what has been done previously and what we will be done next.

You can read more about this in Sarah’s article – A Model for Conducting UX Workshops and Exercises.

Hosting virtual UX Workshops

Now more than ever (especially during the current COVID-19 pandemic) face-to-face UX Workshops are not always practical, specifically, if your company has a no-fly policy like ours. Some of the benefits of hosting virtual UX workshops are, obviously, less travel and fewer expenses but surprisingly, also increased inclusiveness because now the barrier to join the workshop is dropped. Some of the challenges can be that it takes a longer time to prepare for, and it’s harder for participants to connect and “read the room” depending on the audio/visual setup. Participants can also be distracted by other things on their screens.

If you are going to host virtual UX Workshops, be sure to offer breaks and try to keep sessions no longer than 2 hours. Include additional methods of engagement and be clear with the ground rules before beginning, especially if the participants have never met before. As with any meeting or workshop, don’t invite people who don’t need to be there. Think carefully about what you will be showing everyone as you don’t want to overstimulate the participants. Finally, always ask for feedback.

I would recommend that you read the 5 UX Workshops and When to Use Them: A Cheat Sheet article by Kate Kaplan as it gives a great and thorough explanation of the five common types of UX Workshops I discussed above.

May your UX workshops forever be productive and worthwhile. May your attendees see and enjoy the fruit of them.

Like what you’ve read and believe that a UX Workshop could help your project? Get in touch with us today.