dConstruct – Collaboration, Creativity & Consensus In User Experience Design Workshop

Workshop in Action

I ran a workshop on Collaboration, Creativity & Consensus for User Experience Design at dConstruct last week. I had lots of fun and learned a lot as well – I know, it makes me sound as though I was a participant, not running the show! Funny how that works! (Hopefully the people who came along also had fun and learned stuff, then we’re all happy! I think they did.)

Finding good ways to collaborate and to work with a multi-disciplinary team is something that is very important to me. It makes the work much more fun and gives so much more insight.

I was really interested in the short discussion we had in our workshop about the importance of fun in project work. There was more or less a consensus amongst us that fun was more than just, well, fun. It was also really important in motivating the team to stay engaged with the project and to do great work, and to be involved. And lots more reasons. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on if and if so why fun is important in project work.

We did three exercises throughout the course of the day including a brainstorming session with a difference (brainstorming that actually works and doesn’t deserve the bad reputation that bad brainstorming has given it!), a round of design consequences (which we’ve talked about here before), and a run through the KJ Method (whilst channeling Jared Spool).

Something that became clearer to me than ever is the importance of actually *doing* these exercises in order to learn them, and how incredibly hardwired our brains can be to doing things the way we’re used to.

This was never more evident than when we did the brainstorming exercise. I gave some pretty simple instructions to the groups before letting them loose on the brainstorming activity. Admittedly, they were probably fairly different instructions to what everyone was used to when it came to brainstorming, but what followed was pretty extraordinary.

Rather than following these simple instructions, three of the four groups did their own thing, which turned out to be more or less the same thing – rather than using the techniques we’d discussed which are designed to open out the idea generation process, they each proceeded to ‘lock down’ the process by creating a list of things that the device (oh, ok, it was an iPhone!) could do and not do. There was this driving need to ‘lock down’ the environment in which the ideas could be generated. This is not particularly conducive to productive brainstorming!

As it happened, what this meant was that I had to go around to each group and suggest to them that, just for fun, they gave the rules we’d discussed a go – and when they did, the creativity and ideas started flowing! It was a real insight not only into the power of brainstorming well, but also into our own natural desire to get a handle on things, to keep things tight, even when this is potentially detrimental to the activity we’re trying to undertake. I’m pretty sure with out actually seeing this in action, experiencing it for yourself, the lesson is nowhere near as powerful!

There were some really challenging questions raised during the workshop, some of which I’m sure I don’t know the answer to yet (if there is one!). A lot of these were related to how we can bring these kinds of collaborative and creative activities into a workplace that doesn’t naturally embrace them – or worse, where these kinds of activities are looked on as ‘not real work’, or where people pride themselves on working independently.

This can definitely be a tough situation, and I guess my first tip would be to try to make sure you work in a place where collaborative and creative work is embraced! This is going to work for everyone though, so some of the tips that I offer include:

  • Be brave. Those people who think that collaborative and fun activities are childs play and don’t contribute meaningfully to ‘proper work’ often have a talent for making you feel a little silly for suggesting these activities. Don’t let this put you off – press on regardless and have confidence in your techniques!
  • Be methodical. It is actually pretty easy to waste time on these kinds of activities… this is probably why lots of people are pretty cynical about them – they’ve had their time wasted before. Make sure you know WHY you are doing this activity, and WHAT you’re going to get out of it. If it has a clear purpose and outcome then it is more likely to be successful and people are more likely to give it a go.
  • Be prepared. These activities don’t run themselves and most of them require some time, effort and careful thinking to ensure that they are well prepared and run smoothly. Don’t expect to just ‘wing it’ in these sessions. Don’t risk wasting people’s time. Make sure you know what you’re going to do. If you haven’t done it before, consider running a pilot run through before the ‘live’ workshop. Have your shit together.
  • Let your work speak for itself. The absolute best thing you can do is to run a highly productive and fun workshop in your organisation and to let the work speak for itself. People enjoy themselves in these sessions – if they feel like they’re getting good results, then they’re even happier. Word will spread and resistance should gradually die down. If it doesn’t… change jobs! :)

Thanks to everyone who participated in the workshop! With any luck I’ll get a chance to do some more of these in the near future – they’re lots of fun and give you some really great tools for bringing your team and maybe even your organisation together around a project.

Run, don’t walk! (Conference plugs and discounts)

Two things you need to know today.

dConstruct (Brighton, UK) tickets go on sale tomorrow (10 July). They sell out fast. You don’t want to miss out – especially this year with such a great line up on the theme of designing the user experience.

UX Week (Washington DC) also looks amazing. Tickets are on sale for a little longer yet, but if you want to get in at a discounted rate, your chances run out this week. And, for something extra special, if you use the promo code ‘UXLR’ you’ll get a 15% discount on registration. Don’t say I don’t do anything for you. :)

I’ll be at both of these events and would love to see you there. Sing out if you’re coming along!

Social Project Management at Enterprise 2.0

I’m at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston at the moment and hopped up bright and early to give a presentation at 8am this morning. I was talking about Social Project Management, but those who’ve seen or read the washing machine presentation will probably find a fair few similarities between this presentation and that old soap box.

As a general overview though, the point of this presentation is that there are other ways to manage projects than ye olde fashioned waterfall methodology. Not to say that waterfall doesn’t have it’s place, but even within that structure, we can be more creative about the way that work within that structure.

In particular, I’m really interested in ways that we can break down monster projects into micro projects and be more iterative in the way that we work, and to work more collaboratively with teams that are made up of multiple disciplines.

As always – would love to hear your thoughts and let me know if there’s a slide needs some more explanation!

Come to dConstruct!

dConstruct Around this time last year I was holidaying in Thailand, which was blissful. The downside, however, is that I was offline when the dConstruct tickets went on sale and just hours later – they were all gone :(

I’ve never been to a dConstruct conference before, but I’d heard such great things, I was already doing everything I could to get tickets this year – and then they announced that the theme was ‘Designing the User Experience’. Well. dConstruct just became unmissable.

I’ll be there this year (in a much more active way than I’d originally anticipated!), and you should be too – but you’ll need to get in fast!

One great way to secure yourself a ticket to dConstruct is to sign up for a workshop or two, but be quick because tickets to the workshops have just been released.

Andy Budd, one of the conference organisers, has written a great overview of the sessions so I’m going to borrow vast swathes from his blog and repost it here for you:

Just a quick heads-up to let everybody know that dConstruct workshop tickets are now on sale. We’ve got some great sessions planned, all with a user experience or information architecture theme. And the best news is, if you book a seat at any one of these workshops, you’ll automatically get free entrance to the dConstruct conference. As this event usually sells out in a couple of days, this is the very best way to be guaranteed a place.

On Wednesday we have Leisa Reichelt doing a workshop on, er workshops. More specifically, Leisa will be looking at various hands on techniques IA and UX professionals can use to capture ideas and communicate with clients. I had a lot of fun during Leisa’s “Design Consequences” session at BarCamp London, so expect lots of scribbling on sticky notes, sketching interfaces and generally getting your hands dirty.

For the more developer minded, we have a full day workshop with Mr Microformats himself, Tantek Celik. Along with his trusty sidekick, Jeremy Keith, this dynamic due will be taking you on a whirlwind tour of the most exciting thing to happen with semantic mark-up since death of the tag. So get your text editors at the ready, and be prepared for a day of geeky fun.

Thursday sees Thomas Vander Wal, tagmeister extraordinaire, run a session on how to build the social web through tagging. The man who put the “folk” in folksonomy will look at the social and managerial issues behind tagging, and help you design your own tagging strategy. This session will be perfect for anybody dealing with large collections of data, like museums, galleries or even online pet stores. Just don’t mention dogging.

Lastly, we have Peter Merholz, one of the “big guns” from Adaptive Path, running a workshop on experience design. Peter will be drawing from his years of experience as a consultant to explain how to analyse problems and develop solutions. This is already looking like a very popular workshop and one we recommend doing in conjunction with Leisa’s workshop.

Place on these workshops is limited, and already selling out fast. So if you want to learn from some of the best people in the industry, I recommend you go check them out.

I second Andy’s recommendation. dConstruct is, by all accounts, a fantastic British conference and should be loads of fun this year. I hope to see you there!