How we're running UX workshops in lockdown

How we're running UX workshops in lockdown

Collaborative brainstorming with 20 people, 4 flip charts and a mountain of sticky notes? Delivered remotely?

This article describes how we moved our user experience workshops online during coronavirus lockdown.

As a digital team, much of our web design work can be delivered remotely. In the course of a project we will usually have face to face meetings, but like everyone else, we have moved these to Zoom during lockdown and have realised that in many cases remote meetings can be just as productive. But what about UX workshops?

What is a UX workshop?

At the start of each website project we host a UX (user experience) workshop to examine the needs of the key web audiences. This is a collaborative process which usually involves 10-25 people working together in a room.

Over the course of half a day we work through a series of exercises to examine our client organisation's key web audiences and how we can build a website which addresses all of their needs. The process is defined in more detail in this article.

What does a remote UX workshop look like?

The agenda

We usually run physical workshops in one session - typically 10am - 3pm with a break for lunch (and coffee of course). We chose to run the remote workshop over two shorter sessions on consecutive mornings. We felt that participants might find the single five hour agenda a bit tiring online and that shorter sessions would keep everyone fresh.

A content mind map from the remote workshop

Each day we started with 18 people on a group call so that we could brief the team on our plans and activities for the session. We then broke out into separate sub-groups (representing key audiences) and worked on specific activities such as identifying key user journeys, designing sitemaps and sketching wireframes. Each sub-group had a group leader who took notes on a shared Sketchboard.

After each 30 minute activity we reconvened as a full group. Each sub-group leader then presented their work to the overall workshop for discussion.

The tech

We delivered the workshop over Google Meet (formerly Google Hangouts). We chose this over Zoom because it was the preferred tool of our client, but Zoom's Breakout Rooms would also have been an option. Google Meet worked fine, though did require the sub-group leaders to manage their group participants.

We wanted to recreate the flexibility of pen and paper freehand note taking and looked at a few options to replace the flipchart. We settled on Sketchboard and found this to be a great way for group leaders to make notes while sharing their screens with their groups.

A wireframe from the remote workshop

How well did the remote workshop work?

The first positive outcome of the remote workshop was that we were able to get more people together (at a lower cost) than we would have managed with a physical meeting. With more participants, we can incorporate the views of a bigger sample of stakeholders. We also send a message to more people that they are being included in the process.

We were able to get more people together, the quality of the workshop outputs went up and we brought the team together for a collaborative process at a time when people are feeling isolated.

Another benefit of running the workshop remotely was that with digital note taking, the quality of the workshop outputs went up. It was goodbye to illegible scrawl and hello to neat, considered PDF notes. The outputs of the workshop are crucial to the planning of a website, so this is a great bonus.

Finally, the workshop brought the team together for a collaborative process at a time when people are feeling isolated. It felt great to be collaborating as a large team and was a fun morale-boosting exercise.

Topic: Project management

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