Reflections on Facilitating My Recent Design Workshop

This past weekend, I had the privilege of attending the 8th semi-annual Iowa Code Camp.  During my time up there, I presented a design workshop.  The workshop was the first presented at any Iowa Code Camp and was attended with by a handful of individuals.  While it was a fairly experimental endeavor, all attendees enjoyed it due to the interactivity and the exposure to elements of the design process that usually came well before their work on a project. In terms of how I facilitated the workshop, I assisted in guiding the attendees through the following tasks.

Crash Course Presentation

This presentation was a quick introduction to the exercises that is typical in most workshops.  Having attended Iowa Code Camp multiple times in the past, I made sure to provide as much information as I could since the majority of attendees are developers and not designers.

Establishing Teams and Handing Out the Scenarios

After the presentation, I divided the room into a couple of teams. Once the teams were established, I handed each one of two design scenarios that every attendee could related to. The first scenario was to redesign the conference’s website. The second scenario is a redesign of a fictional job site.


The first true exercise was in brainstorming certain things with relation to each scenario. Each team was asked to brainstorm 5 audience segments for their scenario first. I wanted to challenge the teams to think beyond the obvious audiences. Similarly, I next asked them to explore and brainstorm at least 5 different contexts in which one or more audience segment may access the site. There was a little confusion on this one since I didn’t thoroughly explain what I meant by the when and how as the definition of context. One example of what I was looking for would the fact that participants of an event would want different information at the event than they would prior to attending at all.

After contexts were identified, I next asked each team to brainstorm a number of features that’d be on the site. This represented the business assumptions of what their customers would want. Lastly, I asked each team to try and brainstorm a moderate amount of possible content elements that’d appear on the site (i.e. A speaker’s bio, a job’s description, etc.). From observations, coming up with ~25 pieces of content was one of the hardest parts of the workshop for both teams.

User Interviews

As I refactor the workshop, I plan to dedicate a lot of time towards this topic. This exercise entailed creating 5-6 talking points or goals in order to get information on while conducting an open-ended interview with a member of the other team, who was role playing a representative of an audience segment. The goal was to simulate a customer interview in a fashion outlined by Indi Young’s Mental Model process. The conversations went fairly well; however, most of the talking points turned into direct questions. While I feel like it was a good exercise, I am definitely reevaluating it in future versions of the workshop.

Card Sorting

Next, I had each team use the content in which they brainstormed in order to do a card sorting exercise. This exercise went well in illustrating the differences in how people sort, label, and justify the placement of the content on the site. Each team sorted their cards themselves and made a mental note of their own labels and sorting. After each team had finished, each team sorted the other’s deck while the other team observed. While card sorting can gain a large amount of benefits when done multiple times to identify trends, even this small sample set of a sort showed everyone the impact it could have.


Sadly, time ran short and we weren’t able to really do any form of prototyping beyond a quick sketching exercise. Had I more time, each person of each team would pick a page of their site and spend 3-5 minutes sketching (quickly) 6 small screen representations of that page. With a short time limit, ideas are raw. After the time expired, each team would review the ideas each time and identify the top 2 ideas. Normally, this discussion could take significantly longer; however, it was very brief in the workshop sadly. After the ideas are agreed upon, 3-5 minutes would be spent sketching those 2 ideas in a bit larger detail. Again, discussion would follow until the 1 idea rises from the last round of sketches. Finally, one last round of sketches is done in order to sketch the 1 agreed upon idea; followed by a final discussion.

Depending on additional changes I make earlier in the workshop’s agenda, I may cut Prototyping completely. Prototyping is an exercise that could easily fill multiple hours and I’ve attended a couple such workshops myself. Being able to work through an idea from concept to a presentable model is definitely a fun exercise.

Overall Reflections

I think overall, it was a good workshop for the context in which it was provided. It is definitely in need of tweaking; however, I will be giving it again in the near future. Conducting a workshop was a lot more enjoyable for myself compared to a lecture based presentation as well due to the interactivity of such. With all that in mind, I’m looking forward to the next Iowa Code Camp that’ll happen in Spring 2012. If you’re in Iowa while it happens, I highly recommend it for any software professional…but I’m bias. 🙂

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