Design workshop


Hello out there,
I am after some ideas for running a workshop to help inform a website redesign for a college/university/polytechnic (what you call it depends where in the world you live :slight_smile: ).

The work is long overdue, so there are great expectations on the UX and design team. The product owner and Marketing Manger have done research to look at features on other websites to help them come up with ideas. They have a vision for the site, but this seems to focus on the homepage (and the inclusion of videos all over the place). Design wise all we have are catch phrases like ‘modern’, ‘clean’, and vague statements about ‘the vibe’.

The plan is that I (the UX) run a workshop to help the designers gather some information and get some more concrete information from the marketing manger.

I have done various workshops with them in the past for other projects. For these I have done activities like the looking at other sites and get people to write comments about what they like and don’t, and sketching activities.

These have been great, but they have had a UX focus not design. Also I have found cracking that ‘vibe’ thing and getting more of what’s in their head is challenging.

Does anyone have any ideas for workshop formats, activities, etc to help?

Yours, with no vibe and not feeling that modern,


Hi @Jellybean — I’ve used the same technique(s) and activities in initial sessions with clients for 20+ years. The goal here is to take the conversation away from the product, and redirect people’s focus to what matters — to users and to them. What constitutes value and why.

You start at the beginning. Describe UX as a Value Loop: it’s the result of strategic research activities that ensure (1) value is perceived and received by users, so that (2) value comes back to the organization in terms of ROI (money made or saved).

In terms of what I DO in those sessions, activities center around three questions I always try to answer in the very first meeting with a new client, which I’ve outlined in my book and in the YouTube video series below. They are:

  1. What’s Worth Doing?
  2. What Are We Creating?
  3. What Value Does it Provide?

The very first question helps shed light on the other two. You have to determine what the right problems to solve are — not just the obvious ones people are talking about or what they’ve asked you to do. Until you figure that out — along with that the desired outcome should be, the value loop between value to users and ROI back to the organization, it’s premature to suggest any kind of improvements.

I go into detail and share the exercises I use here; it’s a 7-part series starting with this one:

What I’ve learned over the years is that very rarely is the problem that’s identified at the very beginning of the process the actual problem. It’s part of the actual problem, but usually it’s really a symptom.

So even if you have obvious issues with the interface where people are confusing actions, or the primary action isn’t obvious or the path forward through a process isn’t obvious. But a lot of times there’s something that is a lot smaller and a lot more distributed and a lot more widespread that is really causing the abandonment or the data input inaccuracy or whatever it is that’s happening.

So to me, asking “Why?” is the probably the most healthy thing you can do. When somebody says “We need to do this, this and this”, my very first question is always “Why?” The exercises and methods I talk about in these videos is my means to getting those answers.

That information gives you direction in terms of scope, activities, deliverables, etc. It tells you what you know, what you don’t and what you need to find out in order to design and build something that satisfies the Value Loop.

The purpose of these initial working sessions is to make sure everyone with the potential to influence the outcome has input along the way. But beyond that, the actual tactical work you do is entirely dependent on what you learn about what’s actually worth doing and what will provide value to people. It’s also dependent on the way that organization works, how its teams are distributed, what the pecking order is, etc….point: not all of that is for you to decide.

Everything is an assumption until proven otherwise, so every possible feature, function and perceived business goal or user need are all GUESSES that need to be validated through research, prototyping and testing.

That’s probably more than you asked for, but I hope some of it is helpful to you — and good luck!


A big +1 to Joe’s comments.

Additionally, paying some attention to defining the audience with some concrete, identifiable attributes (including who you’re NOT designing for) gets everyone on the same page, is well within the scope of marketing input, and will help you in future research or usability testing tasks. Just remember that if anyone uses the word ‘personas’ that marketing personas and UX/design personas can be fundamentally different.

I sometimes find it helpful, if some of the team or stakeholders have excitedly started developing a vision, to generate some discussion points and comparison points by collecting visual references—a folder/subfolders with screenshots and screen clips of design elements from other sites/apps/interfaces/designs that help identify and document the vision. Include snippets and design ‘patterns’ like menus, headers, content filters, etc, as well as general ‘brand’ stuff like use of colour, layout, content tones. I’ve found this to be important because an unarticulated vision can be so vague and flexible that it bends in too many directions depending on subjective or contextual factors. Making it a little bit more explicit is easy, fun, collaborative and gets people talking while still leaving plenty of room for designing a proper solution.


Excellent advice from @Lukcha here, @Jellybean!


Thanks @joenatoli and @Lukcha. Really helpful.

This is a project I should be excited about, but when it comes to this site nothing has ever been simple. A large organisation where there are too many fingers get in the pie making changes (without a thought for the users - I find out after things are done), no content management, no site strategy, and everything I work on feels like a battle. (Never thought I would say this but it has been far more fun the last few years working on internal applications. :slight_smile:)

Now it feels there is hope a redesign will magically make things ok. I know it won’t solve the problems, but with any luck I can solve some for the users.

I’ll definitely be preparing myself to ask lots of whys (I love the simplicity of the why), and dig in my heels for our users.
And @Lukcha thanks for your tips on capturing design ideas. That will be useful.

Thank you.

PS… had a little fan girl moment @joenatoli when I saw your reply - I have your book.