An Event Apart: 10 Secrets from a UX Design Strategist’s Toolbox

by Luke Wroblewski December 7, 2009

Sarah Nelson's 10 Secrets from a UX Design Strategist’s Toolbox talk at An Event Apart San Francisco detailed a number of ways to manage collaborative design sessions.

  • The way we work with people has a direct impact on the quality of products we design
  • 50% of our job is working with people but 0% of our training is.
  • Participatory design is designing with users not for them. You can apply this approach to stakeholders and colleagues as well. You need to get as much information from people as possible. A designer is a channel for user needs.
  • Activities and games are the primary ways to practice participatory design. These processes are visual, physical, and collaborative.
  • Can use familiar tools to help people express their ideas. Allow people to engage in the process and create early buy-in.
  • You may get some resistance so be very clear about where the participatory design exercise fits into the process.
  • Be careful about front-loading the process with too much work.
  • Listening is good for building relationships and it allows people to solve their own problems.
  • Get comfortable with communicating your ideas visually. If you can write, you can draw. Drawing allows you to give form to ideas and get them out of your head.
  • You can allow people to “draw” using templates to move elements around and illustrate ideas.
  • Get physical: leave your own space and use the room and walls to work through ideas. This drives action instead of discussion.
  • Silent sort: tool for breaking stalemates (conversations that keep going around). First define the question you need an answer for. In silence, let people list all their ideas, then collaboratively sort them on the wall. You end up with loosely related groups of elements, which you can then discuss how to label. This helps people collaborate instead of discuss.
  • Worksheets: provide a structure for people share ideas. To get answers to specific questions, use familiar forms to describe an interaction. Example: how can we help (specific person) to (specific action).
  • Posters help people understand what you need them to do. Can fill in detail for concepts and deepen conversations. Also provide a record of people’s work.
  • Dot voting helps people decide between concepts by voting. Does not mean the group is making a design decision but it helps give designers a sense of the room and people’s opinions.
  • Feedback can be immediately gathered using colored post-it notes. Can enable quick course corrections and address concerns early and often.
  • Materials can help create new ways to collaborate: sticky notes, draft dots, pens, large boards, and more. A diversity of materials helps people find ways to contribute that suit them.
  • To create new ideas for collaboration think about the outcome you want to enable. Then consider the assets you have available to you and construct the activity and environment accordingly.