Why are ideation workshops important?
Ideation workshops are a great next step after synthesizing research,
and they help empower teams to take your research to the next level.
There are several reasons I keep going back to ideation workshops:
✔ Help your teams
As per the above example, ideation
workshops can really help your teams get unstuck. If you deliver great
insights and have no idea what the next steps should be, ideation
workshops can generate many new ideas for usability testing. These
workshops can give your team a much-needed direction.
✔ Foster collaboration and different perspectives
many excuses do you have to bring your team together to brainstorm?
Design typically gets stuck in a room with a designer, and maybe a
product manager and user researcher. With ideation workshops, you can
bring together many unique and different perspectives on how to solve a
particular problem. Within a group, people are more likely to think
outside the box and build off each other's energy.
✔ Create a safe space for creativity
workshops should always be a safe space that is completely
judgment-free. You can even go as far as banning the word "no." In an
ideation workshop, you can explore every idea with no worry about it
being a "bad idea" or "stupid." The opportunities within an ideation
workshop are endless and adventurous and often lead to innovation!
✔ Base on user research
you base an ideation workshop on previous user research, you can be
sure you are focusing on a real customer problem. Instead of debating
what should be done next through gut feeling or focusing on business
problems, this workshop is all about the user.
✔ Make it fun and exciting
have seen many people hesitant to join this type of workshop, and, by
the end, they were asking me when the next one was. Previously quiet
people ended up presenting ideas and getting excited about the next
steps. The majority of participants who have joined these workshops
genuinely enjoy them, and end up seeing the value by the end.
✔ Get closer to a new solution
you come up with so many ideas during ideation, this workshop will
bring you one step closer to a viable and user-centric solution. With
this in mind, you can choose the best ideas and prototype them to ensure
you are aligned with the user's needs, goals, and expectations.
Ideation workshops are a great way to get creative juices flowing in
your team and rally all the brains to create innovative ideas. Not only
is this exercise energizing, but it also provides an excellent outcome
of concrete ideas that can be tested.
How to run an ideation workshop
There are some best practices when it comes to running a successful ideation workshop. I wrote another article with some remote workshop facilitation best practices, so I won't detail general best practices. Instead, I will focus on ideation workshops.
1. Conduct user research
User research will
give you a clear topic and problem statement to explore in your ideation
workshop. If you skip this step, you may risk exploring an invalid
topic with nothing to do with your user's needs, motivations, or pain
points. This situation can be a waste of time and effort if you generate
many ideas that don't land with users.
2. Create expected outcomes for the workshop
By the end of the workshop, you should have covered four main areas:
- Have a strong understanding of the problem/topic
- Generate many different ideas
- Vote on the top 1-3 ideas to test
- Decide on the next steps for testing the ideas
3. Define a problem statement
A problem statement
identifies a current problem a user is encountering and the goal the
user would like to accomplish. It is completely focused on the user, not
on the product or on the business. It is broad enough to generate
multiple relevant ideas, but focused on only 1-2 user needs/problems in
Here are some examples of problem statements:
✔ Focus on the user's perspective
"I am a
student who loves to travel, but I'm struggling because of my limited
budget and trying to find flights that are cheap but safe. This makes me
feel frustrated because I want to travel, but I feel stuck."
✔ Look at the four W's (who, what, where, why)
"I'm a writer, but I also work a full-time job, making it hard for me to
find time to write. I don't know how to properly manage my free time
when I am not at work, so I end up wasting a lot of time and feeling
✔ Examine needs
"I am a doctor, and I
need a way to stay updated on the patient's charts. I don't have time to
look through the computer program or go into the patient's room, so
sometimes I miss important updates."
4. Pick your ideation technique(s)
Now comes the fun
part! There are several different ideation techniques you can pick for
your workshop. I linked to several different resources at the bottom of
this article. Here are some of my favorite ideation techniques:
✔ Flip the problem
Take the original problem you
wrote and invert it. For example, the student who wants to travel by
budget would be flipped to the student who only wants the most expensive
travel options. Spend several minutes ideating around the new question.
Once you have collected all the negative ideas, take 1-3 of them, and
ideate ways to invert that solution to solve the original problem.
✔ How would Google do it?
Explore your problem space as if you were the CEO of a company like
Amazon, Google, Apple, Etsy, the FBI, Walmart, Netflix, Disney, etc.
Bonus points on picking a company that is completely different than your
✔ Crazy 8s
This is a sketching
technique that generates many ideas and is great for designers and
non-designers. Fold a piece of paper eight times (or create a grid of
eight on a virtual board) and set a timer for eight minutes. Each person
has eight minutes to draw eight different ideas. As the moderator, let
people know as each minute finishes!
✔ Method 6-3-5
people write down three ideas in five minutes. When the five minutes is
up, team members pass their sheet onto the next person so peers can
build on ideas. You can pass this around for as many rounds as you want,
but I generally stop at 5-6 rounds. This way, teams are collaborating
silently and bringing different perspectives to ideas. It is a little
like that game "telephone." It is funny to see where ideas went!
✔ Worst possible idea
person creates as many terrible, stupid, bad, or illegal ideas. Then
challenge the group to turn those horrible ideas into good ones by
considering its opposite or finding some aspect within a terrible idea
that can inspire a good one. For fun, you can combine this with the
Crazy 8s and Method 6-3-5.
I pair all of my ideation techniques with sketching to be turned into
prototypes after the workshop. Also, I prefer a mix of divergent and
convergent working, which means each person brainstorms initial ideas
alone, and then they share back to the group.
5. Allow for voting
If you use an ideation technique
that has an outcome of over three different ideas (which the majority
do), you will have to narrow them down. The best way to narrow down
ideas is to allow workshop participants to vote. Depending on how many
ideas you have to choose between, give each workshop participant 1-3
6. Always follow up
Now that you have some ideas
sketched out, it is imperative to follow-up with the designer and
product manager to plan usability testing. Of course, the workshop alone
is exciting and fun, but you do need to follow through. Running a
successful ideation workshop ensures the ideas are prototyped and tested
to provide further direction!
Nikki Anderson-Stanier is the founder of User Research Academy and a qualitative researcher with 9 years in the field. She loves solving human problems and petting all the dogs.
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