Workshop methods useful in product design

Many times, while carrying out projects for Exorigo-Upos clients we as a creative team faced the task of creating something "from scratch". It is not so much difficult but extremely interesting because of the wide possibilities of building solid conceptual foundations of the project. Only such allows you to create innovative, thoughtful and useful products, both from the user and business perspective.

Often the state of a "clean slate" results in each member of the project team had their head filled with ideas and visions of an ideal, from their perspective, product or process.

Without a clearly defined workshop plan, discussions with the client are reduced to a conversation about feelings - "I feel this way, you feel differently". It is very difficult to point out who is right. We've had situations where we've had to choose non-measurable elements, where it comes down to choosing what's nicer. Tastes vary, but the aim should always be to provide the best solution in terms of functionality and aesthetics, tailored to the target audience.

So how do you manage, in a workshop, people with different hierarchies and often conflicting ideas?

In the following article, I will present some methods and principles that support the design thinking process, which help to establish a coherent vision of the project that produces positive results.


Empathy maps - how to know who the end user is

The basis of every project is the certainty that each of the participants and decision-makers understands exactly for whom the solution is created. Of course, you can use numbers, statistics, targets, but such information is dispersed and may cause difficulties in understanding the user's point of view. With help comes a method popularised by Alexander Osterwalder in his book Business Model Generation, the so-called Empathy Map.

It is a simple diagram, easily illustrating the individual actions and feelings of the user. What the user sees, hears, thinks and feels, says and does.

What does the user see?

In this section, we focus on what the user observes, especially when they are in situations that are important in the context of our product or solution. What is the situation on the market, what is the environment like when using a competitor's solution, what offers does he see, what problems does he encounter?

For example - while realizing an e-commerce project for Škoda we noticed that in competitors offers the user sees only prices of specific simulations for specific leasing parameters. Often configured in such a way that the leasing instalment is extremely attractive. However, there is no possibility to personalise the parameters and go through the process online. 

What does the user hear?

Here we are interested in what messages reach the user verbally. We may focus on advertising messages, from influencers or people in the environment.

For example - the user hears that, as a sole trader, operating leases are extremely cost effective.

What does the user think and feel?

Once we know our user's environment (what they see and hear), we can begin to define their thoughts in terms of the market situation, what is important to them.

For example - the user feels that the current market situation makes it necessary to read extensive contracts in order to find out about all the leasing terms and costs. The user thinks it would be good to have a tool that provides an understanding of lease payments with no hidden costs. 

What does the user say and do?

It is important in this context to note the discrepancy between what the user thinks and what they say and do. In the example given, the user says - "I don't understand how to fill out a lease application" and hands it over to their accountant or requires a consultant to fill out the application. 

In the end, it is always good to look at the disadvantages and benefits

The disadvantages are easy to define, but it is important to think about the benefits the user expects. In our case, these will be understandable leasing conditions and the ease of making an application, preferably without leaving home.

When drawing empathy maps, it is important to carefully select representatives of each user group. Car dealers look at the world differently from their customers. It is important to remember that the end user is not necessarily one group. The selection of representatives can be done directly in the workshop with the customer, or such maps can be prepared by analysing data beforehand. A good method is to allow workshop participants to choose names. Then we write the name of the representative of each group in the middle of the empathy map. 


Rose, Thorn and Bud

This method is often used to improve existing products, it can also be used to determine the state of the competition and the directions in which we should look regarding functionality and processes in the designed solutions. In the case of starting from a "clean slate", mentioned at the beginning, the workshop group should be assigned tasks, e.g. "Go through a specific process with a competitor". Then, during the meeting, we draw three columns on the board. At the top of each column, we write the title - Rose, Thorn and Bud. We ask each participant to write up to 3 points in each category. Rose stand for what they liked about the process analysed during the exercise. The thorn is the problems, and the bud is the features that need to be developed to give the product a new quality. It is important in this method to fill in the columns one by one. First, the respondents fill in column one. Only when everyone has completed this task do they move on to column two and finally to column three.

 After this stage, we can clearly see which functionalities and process elements in our competitors are perceived positively and which negatively. Bud show the elements that may constitute a competitive advantage. In order to select the 3 most important points among the buds that we will want to include in our project, we can apply the Three-Dot Method described below. 


The three-dot method

A very simple and useful method to help resolve any selection issues. Be it the best ideas, problems we should deal with first, or key functionalities for the success of the product. Each participant of the workshop receives three dots - three votes which they can cast on the options presented during the workshop. What is important, you can cast three votes for one idea, or distribute the dots in any configuration per project. (1,1,1 or 2,1,0 or 3,0,0 etc.) This method removes the effect of the talk about feelings mentioned in the introduction to this article. We stop talking about the hypothetical feelings of individuals, usually group leaders, and focus on the feeling component of all participants. Voting also helps with projects focused solely on aesthetic goals - design. It can be approached as a collection of pre-voted elements. The client can vote for the font, colour palette, logo designs, homepage versions, etc. This minimises the risk of criticism when showing the final version of the design. Transparency of the project and the decisions made is extremely important. 


Customer Journey - designing processes, not screens

This is an increasingly common method of product design. It involves drawing particular steps of the process through which we want to lead the user. During workshops, when we are sure that all participants understand exactly for whom and for what purpose we create a product, it is good to create a picture of a customer journey.

The customer journey can be created before the workshop by a UX specialist in several variants, and then each of the variants is put to a vote during the workshop. The second method - activates workshop participants, consists in dividing them into three groups (if we have, for example, 4 people, each can design a path individually). Each group designs its ideal customer journey and presents it to the others.

The best one is selected using the three-dot method. The UX specialist then makes changes or improvements to the created path. It is important to take a broad look at the customer journey in this context. Not necessarily from the perspective of the product we are designing, but from the perspective of all points of contact with the brand. Including the stages, the user has to go through before they reach the moment of contact with our product. And also, after contact with it. Customer Journey is more than just the processes we see in our product. It is a full set of stimuli which accompany the user in the context of our brand. 


Functionality prioritisation or ants, mice and elephants

A frequent situation encountered while designing products, processes and user paths is the moment when it is necessary to decide on the functionalities included in MVP (Minimum Valuable Product), achievable within a specified budget or time. In order not to give up the perfect vision of the designed product and the assumptions developed during the workshops, the prioritisation method is useful. It is based on the division into three categories - ants, mice and elephants. In this methodology, we draw three columns on the blackboard and write down the functionalities listed, specifying for each of them the process or a series of tasks to be performed in order to achieve the goal. We write the easiest goals to achieve in the ant category. Difficult goals, but achievable relatively quickly and without the need to change processes already existing in the organisation, are entered under the category of mice. The most difficult goals, which require a lot of resources and work, fall into the elephant’s category. When creating the schedule and road map of projects, you can focus on ants and mice first. If possible, select one key functionality from the elephant category using the three-dot method. Functionalities outside the MVP are best arranged on the road map in such a way that they are added in subsequent versions of the product. 



Knowing who the user is, what the competitor's processes look like, and which functionalities we want to include in our product, we can draw the first prototypes. This stage involves visualising the data collected earlier and establishing the information architecture in the way the end user will see it. It is important to try to solve the critical elements of the process in up to three ways and present these solutions during the workshop. Pointing out the pros and cons of each approach. The most appropriate approach is choosing by voting. Once again, the three-dots method is useful. It is best to present prototypes using clickable mock-ups. This way the participants fully understand the designed process. You can break down complex processes into smaller elements and focus on the individual steps. For example, develop checkout separately, registration separately, the product selection and search process separately. With processes developed for each sub-process, it is important to remember that the final user path should not contain points of frustration for the user. 


Democracy above all

Finally, I wanted to refer to my own empirical experience about the workshops. It is extremely important that every participant feels free to share their vision and ideas. It may not be a revelation, but we need to avoid a situation where leaders, usually senior people on the client side, are responsible for junior participants in the workshop. There is a tendency for the group to copy the choices of leaders. If the 'boss' has chosen Design #1 or Process #1, then some of the group will vote the same way, even though deep down they feel differently. In the end, the outcome of the workshop comes down to one person's feelings, instead of the whole group, often in closer contact with the end user than the "boss". To prevent this from happening, use the three-dot method presented earlier and ask the most senior people to vote last.


Workshops as an element of team spirit

The methods presented help activate workshop participants and build "team spirit" between the designers and the client. The sooner clients understand that designers care about creating the best product possible, the better. We all have the same goal.

The above list contains the most commonly used methods. They can be chosen selectively, focusing on the goal of the workshop. It is rare that all of the above activities are used.

Are you interested in creating a product using the Design Thinking approach?

Feel free to contact us:

Daniel Kałucki