I recently co-facilitated an ideation workshop at Emerson, where we used activities to generate innovative solutions. In this summary, I'll share the workshop's purpose, key aspects, and some tips for running a successful event. We aimed to align everyone's goals, encourage divergent thinking, and gain real-time input from participants.
One thing that we often get asked by our clients at EchoUser is to facilitate ideation workshops during projects. However, it can be really daunting for first time facilitators when it comes to planning and preparing— it was certainly how I felt. After a recent two day ideation workshop that a co-worker and I facilitated for our clients at Emerson, I thought it was a good opportunity to document our process especially for fellow designers who might find it useful as a guide to run future ideation workshops.
In the following article, I will cover general introduction to ideation workshop, how do we plan and prepare for it, personal tips on the workshop day, what we do after the workshop to provide a holistic view of running ideation workshops.
Ideation workshop brings cross-functional teams together to go through various idea generation activities in order to create innovative and outside--the box design solutions.
The earlier in the process, the better. You want to do it when you’re diverging. You could do it when:
Why are we running the workshop? Who should we invite to it? Where are we in the design process? How much time do we have for the workshop? Were there any previous workshops around this topic and what should we learn from them? Should we do the workshop in phases or in one go?
Start with a rough outline of what you want to cover in bullet points and how you will achieve the workshop goals. Then brainstorm group activities around specific section of the workshop. I typically would use a spreadsheet to draft an agenda and allocate time. Below I share an example of the workshop agenda we created for Emerson.
After developing the agenda, share it with your core action team to get feedback, and assign roles among co-facilitators.
Dedicate at least an afternoon to run through the agenda as if you’re facilitating the workshop.
The activities below are a recommended agenda for an ideation workshop done at the stage when product being designed is already known. If you’re in the initial exploratory phase, you might want to make some modification. I think the overall structure still applies. Some activities are optional, but ideally in this order:
Set up the context
It helps align the participants on the starting point.
Set up the guiding principles (optional)
We find that running this activity will spark creative energy and healthy discussion among participants. It helps align product experience vision.
Revisit/Create user stories/scenarios for key personas
In the Emerson workshop we had user stories written beforehand. However we found it necessary to revisit them as part of the workshop because they were not written in a way that’s effective for designers. It’s a good refresher to help the ideation going forward.
Have fun with Sketch Icebreakers
Let the audience step outside of their comfort zone and start doing some hands-on drawing. For example, we asked the participants to draw out their ideal day from morning to night in 4 frames and share it with the group.
Prepare ideation with Pre-ideation
Slicing the elephant and split the ideation challenge. This aims to break down a big challenge to smaller challenges and encourage people to think outside the box.
One of the activities that we used in our workshop with Emerson was brainstorming HMWs (How Might We) from user stories/insights. We prompted the participants to think about extreme conditions and constraints, to help them generate wild, raw ideas. The 3 prompts we used were; “How might we present info not in a list format?” (which is the obvious answer), “What does the screen look like when we have 75 products to show?”(which is the extreme) and “How might we educate the new engineers?”(which is a key value of this product)
Cluster and combine some pre-ideation options (can be done as a group ”octopus clustering” or like in our case by the moderator)
Prioritize options by quick voting
Start Ideation and sketching activity
Before the ideation happens, we restate the goals, constraints and opportunity areas.
Dive into Crazy 8s: During Crazy 8, we still aim for quantity over quality and generate a lot of ideas. Each individual is given 1 min per idea and 8 min in total to generate 8 sketches(ideas).
Individually select their favorite idea and flesh it out with more detail.
The group takes turn to present the ideas
Facilitator combines ideas and the participants take their time to see all the ideas on the wall. Heatmap voting (each participant gets unlimited small dots and can vote for any specific features they like in all the solution sketches, versus voting for an entire sketch.)
Next, everyone discusses group favorite features, facilitator clusters them into several raw ideas
Break everyone into groups to further refine the group favorite ideas in their own station
Rotate stations to work on top of other ideas
Each group will select one person to stay at the original station while the others rotate to a new station. That person will explain the design solution to new-comers. Repeat until most participants have a chance to work on all the ideas. (Consider this as a quick iteration process)
Feedback gathering (post-its)
These are my thoughts so far. I am still not an expert at running workshops and processes differ with situations. You are welcome to comment below with activities/tips you find effective in running ideation workshops or share your stories around running workshops. I’m very excited to learn about them!
Big thanks to my editors, Vidhi Goel, Yifei Liu and Leslie Garner Franklin.
Published on May 8, 2019