How to Run a UX Design Workshop

What is a UX design workshop & what are the benefits of running one? How can you plan a successful UX workshop of your own? Learn all you need to know here.

Workshops provide value at every stage of the UX design process. Whether it’s exploring a specific UX problem, getting key stakeholders aligned, generating ideas and solutions, or diving deeper into your end user’s needs—workshops offer a safe, engaging space to tackle UX challenges collaboratively, creatively, and efficiently.

Are you a UX designer looking to unlock the power of workshops? Then keep reading. This is your ultimate guide on how to run a UX workshop, and we’ve covered everything you need to know:

First things first: What exactly is a UX workshop? Let’s get a definition in place. 

What is a UX workshop?

A UX workshop is a collaborative group session which focuses on a specific goal or outcome. It’s not just a meeting between UX designers and stakeholders; it’s an active, interactive session, carefully designed to empower progress through teamwork. 

A UX workshop follows a set agenda, with participants taking part in different activities throughout. The types of activities and exercises featured depends on the goal of the workshop. We’ll look at some of the different types of UX workshops and activities a bit later on.

Why use workshops in UX design?

UX workshops provide value throughout the UX design process. You can use them to:

  • Explore and understand specific problems and challenges
  • Generate ideas and problem-solve
  • Develop user empathy
  • Prioritize and plan what the team should focus on next
  • Develop a UX strategy
  • Gather feedback and critique
  • Review and improve team processes

…and much, much more!

Whatever the focus of your UX workshop, the benefits are endless. While a UX workshop does require more time and effort upfront than a meeting, the returns are high. 

Take your UX / UI design career to the next level with workshops and facilitation

Workshops are outcome-focused, collaborative, and designed to achieve specific goals within a set time frame. Ultimately, if you want to improve collaboration and accelerate progress within your UX team, start running UX workshops.

What are the different types of UX workshops?

Now we know what a UX workshop is, let’s get more specific and introduce some of the different types of UX workshops you might run. 

Discovery workshops

Discovery workshops are a bit like a project kick-off. They’re all about getting a handle on the current state of a project and getting people aligned. 
You can use discovery workshops to gather knowledge and information from clients or stakeholders, to define the requirements of the project, to go over existing artifacts and deliverables (e.g. user research), and establish group alignment in terms of priorities and project milestones. 

Empathy workshops

Empathy is the very foundation of UX, and an empathy workshop is an excellent way to ensure that your design process is user-centric. 
Just as the name suggests, empathy workshops help to develop empathy for the end user. They can be used to establish a common understanding of who your end users are, as well as their needs, goals, and pain-points. 
After an empathy workshop, everybody will be better equipped to design products and features that meet the user’s needs. 

Get an introduction to facilitation and workshops

Design workshops

Design workshops are primarily used to rapidly generate ideas and solutions. You can run a design workshop when you’ve already got a clearly defined UX problem.
Design workshops are all about leveraging a broad and diverse array of perspectives, so it’s important to involve people from different departments. 
Design workshops can be used to come up with initial ideas at the beginning of a project, or to refine existing ideas, designs, and concepts.

Prioritization workshops

It’s not always possible to follow through with every single idea, solution, or feature. When you have competing initiatives or clashing priorities, it’s essential to figure out, collaboratively, where time and resources should be invested first. 
This is where prioritization workshops come in. A prioritization workshop helps to reach consensus as to what should be prioritized and when, creating clear focus for the UX team. 

Critique workshops

Critique workshops provide a space to review existing designs and/or UX deliverables (e.g. personas or user flows) to ensure that they’re still hitting the mark.
The goal of any critique workshop is to ensure that design decisions are still accurate and appropriate based on your understanding of the end user’s needs. This is also a good opportunity to hear feedback from different stakeholders. 
You can hold a critique workshop as part of a new project kick-off, or as part of an iteration if you’re working in sprint cycles. 

UX strategy workshops

Every so often, it’s important to step back and consider the bigger picture. Whether you’re defining a UX strategy from scratch or reviewing an existing strategy, you can do so with a dedicated workshop.
The goal of a UX strategy workshop is to define (or review) the long-term goals and vision for the product and/or the UX team in relation to the overarching business strategy. 
We’ve written a general guide to strategy meetings and workshops here, and you’ll find that many of the principles can be transferred to UX-specific strategy workshops.

Retrospectives

A retrospective workshop is when you look back at a project to review how successful it was. Retrospectives aren’t specific to UX, but they are an extremely valuable tool for any team and therefore deserve a special mention here.
During a retrospective workshop, you gain valuable insight into how people feel the project went. It’s an opportunity to discuss challenges and roadblocks, to identify areas for improvement before starting the next project, and to address any residual conflict. 
We share some tried-and-tested retrospective exercises here.

7 activities to use during a UX workshop

There are dozens of activities and exercises you can run as part of your UX workshop. Overarching all of these different activities are 7 foundational exercises, as defined by the Nielsen Norman Group
These are:

A post-up

Participants come up with ideas, write them on sticky notes, and stick them on the wall (or the virtual whiteboard if you’re running a remote UX workshop). Post-ups are great because they give everybody space to generate and capture their ideas. This exercise is especially ideal for design workshops where you want to come up with lots of different ideas in a short space of time.

Affinity diagramming

If you’re in the UX field, you’re probably already familiar with affinity diagramming. In the context of a UX workshop, affinity diagramming is used to cluster and group people’s ideas based on themes and similarities. 
Affinity diagramming is a good follow-up exercise after idea generation, when you need to organize everybody’s ideas and identify patterns and recurring topics across the group. 

Landscape mapping

In landscape mapping, you evaluate the themes you’ve come up with in your affinity diagramming exercise and see if there are relationships between them. Landscape mapping is a technique also used for things like empathy maps and customer journey maps. In a UX workshop, it helps you to identify relationships across a vast array of content.

Forced ranking

Forced ranking is a prioritization exercise which directly weighs up different items against each other to create a clear hierarchy of priorities. Some of the most popular forced ranking activities include dot voting, creating prioritization matrices, and the hundred dollar test.

Storyboarding

Storyboarding is a great visual technique used to tell a story through a series of images displayed in chronological order. For example, you might storyboard the process of how a user interacts with a specific feature. 

In a UX workshop, storyboarding doesn’t only encourage participants to get creative with pen and paper; it helps them to step into the user’s shoes and consider certain ideas in specific user contexts. As such, storyboarding is ideal for empathy workshops. 

Role-playing

Role-playing is notorious for getting people out of their comfort zones, and that’s the whole point! In a UX workshop, you can get participants to roleplay different scenarios, asking them to either step into the shoes of a user or even to take on the role of the product or system. This encourages new perspectives and naturally gets people challenging their own assumptions—essential if you want to create truly user-centric products.

Playback

Playback is, quite simply, the process of sharing insights and ideas throughout the workshop. If you’re workshopping with a large number of participants and frequently splitting off into smaller groups, it’s important to catch up as an entire group at regular intervals. This keeps everybody in the loop and will ultimately ensure alignment as the workshop moves towards a conclusion. 

How to plan and run a UX workshop (remote, in-person, or hybrid): 7 key steps

Here are 7 key factors to consider when planning a UX workshop:

What’s the goal of your UX workshop?

First and foremost, why are you running a UX workshop? What do you want to achieve? Another way to frame this question is: Where are we at in the UX design process? 
Perhaps you’re kicking off a new project and want to get everybody aligned before moving forward. Maybe you’re nearing the end of a project and want to assess how it went. Your end goal will determine all the subsequent workshop variables, so have a clear outcome in mind before you do anything else.

What type of UX workshop will you run?

Based on your end goal, what type of UX workshop are you going to run? Refer back to the different types of UX workshops we introduced earlier on, but bear in mind that you can mix, match, adapt, and combine them to find a format that suits you. 
For example, if you’re kicking off a new project, you might choose to run a UX workshop that combines elements of both discovery and empathy. You have full creative license! Just remember to keep the workshop focused on a specific goal.

Who should attend?

The success of your UX workshop rests heavily on who attends, so consider your guest list carefully. It’s always valuable to have a diversity of perspectives, but you want to hit a balance; don’t fall into the trap of inviting too many people. One or two representatives from each department is ideal. 
When curating your attendee list, we recommend dividing it up into must-haves and nice-to-haves. Your must-have attendees are those you consider absolutely critical to the workshop (you’d rather reschedule it than run it without their input), while your nice-to-haves would make a valuable contribution but don’t necessarily have to attend if it isn’t logistically possible. 
Once you’ve got your guest list sorted, be sure to invite everyone in good time, with a clear overview of what the workshop will cover and how they’ll be required to participate. 

What’s on your UX workshop agenda? (Including activities and time frames)

You want your UX workshop to achieve a specific goal, so you need to design your agenda with this goal in mind. 
First, consider how much time you have for the workshop: will it take place over two hours, a day, or a week? 
Then figure out how you’ll divide that time for maximum output. What exercises will you run, and how much time will be allocated for each? When will breaks take place, and how long for? How will you warm up the group at the start of the session, and energize them throughout? We recommend including ice-breaker activities and energizers at well-placed intervals. 
Your agenda will steer your UX workshop and keep the group focused, so make sure it’s watertight. 

Where will the workshop take place?

Now for the logistics. Where will your UX workshop take place? Will it be an in-person workshop, an entirely remote affair, or a hybrid session with some in-person attendees and others dialing in?

Think about the physical or digital space you’ll use to host your workshop, as well as the tools and materials you’ll need (digital white board, Post-it notes, pens, etc). For an in-person workshop, consider how you’ll design the space for maximum participant comfort. For a remote UX workshop, plan—down to the very last detail—how participants will join, interact, and capture and share their ideas. 

What are the next steps after your UX workshop?

The whole point of running a UX workshop is to accelerate progress and drive action, so it’s essential to consider what the next steps will be after the workshop itself. 
How will you act on what comes up during the workshop? Who is responsible for each action point, and what’s the desired time frame?
Conclude your workshop with clear next steps (defined in collaboration with the workshop group) and establish a timeline. This ensures that your workshop efforts translate into real-world impact long after the workshop is over.

7 golden rules of UX workshop facilitation

As a facilitator, you are responsible for guiding the group and ensuring that your UX workshop stays focused on the end goal. To help you, here are 7 golden rules of UX workshop facilitation to bear in mind at all times.

Lead with a strong introduction

Getting your UX workshop off to a strong start is critical. Kick things off by:

  • Clearly reiterating what the workshop is for and what you hope to achieve as a group
  • Briefly running through the agenda and what your participants can expect
  • Explaining your role as the facilitator 

A strong introduction will get everybody on the same page and help to manage expectations before you begin, setting the stage for success. 

Incorporate icebreakers

For many, the prospect of attending a workshop and taking part in different activities can be daunting. But, if you want people to be creative, innovative, and open, you need to put them at ease. Incorporate icebreakers into your agenda: certainly at the beginning of the workshop, and potentially after a long break to get people back in the swing of things. For inspiration, check out this list of tried-and-tested icebreaker activities.

Set expectations and ground rules

The best workshops are those where everybody has the opportunity to contribute, and feels empowered to do so. As the facilitator, it’s your job to create this space, so be sure to set clear expectations and ground rules around communication. 
If you’re running a remote UX workshop, for example, is there a chat or messaging function that participants can use? Are there specific gestures or signals people can use to indicate they have something to say? 
You don’t need to be too rigid with your rules, but a few basic guidelines will help to keep communication and collaboration respectful and smooth.

Give clear instructions for each activity

Whenever you introduce a new exercise or activity, make sure you give crystal clear instructions. Most importantly, keep your instructions simple. Don’t give participants multiple options for how to approach the task; stick to one method that everybody should follow. And, if you’re running a more complex activity, check that everyone’s clear on what they need to do before you start.

Keep troublemakers in check

Unfortunately, not everyone will attend your UX workshop with pure joy and enthusiasm. You may find some troublemakers in your midst, and it’s important to keep them in check so they don’t have the chance to derail your workshop. Fortunately, there are lots of tried-and-true strategies you can use to keep things running smoothly. Learn more in this guide on how to deal with workshop skeptics (with 9 actionable techniques).

Stick to your schedule

Timing is everything in your UX workshop. If you consistently run over time, you’ll compromise the productivity of your workshop and risk things feeling rushed. Be diligent when it comes to sticking to your agenda, have a timer on hand to keep track, and build buffer time into your schedule.

End with a clear decision

The whole purpose of a UX workshop is to make progress on a specific challenge or topic. You’ll probably find that, throughout the course of the workshop, you collectively come up with not just one solution or idea, but several. To ensure the workshop is actionable, it’s essential to end with a clear decision regarding which solution, idea, or action you’ll pursue. Only then can you consider your UX workshop complete!

That concludes our guide to UX design workshops. Hopefully you feel inspired to run your own UX workshop, and have picked up some actionable strategies and techniques you can employ right away. 
Want to learn more about workshopping? Check out these guides:

Emily Stevens