In the space between people & tech. User researcher, anthropologist, economist creative, etc.
How I used Figma to run a comprehensive workshop with my team. Here are my thoughts on what works, what doesn’t, and how to go about building the remote workshop tools of the future.
The lockdown isn’t challenging roles and professions in themselves. It’s challenging their flexibility and resiliency. This is also true for us UX Designers and Researchers, for whom collaborative face-to-face exercises such as workshops are an important part of work life.
There is this myth going around about how workshops are a ‘real-world’ activity that cannot be replicated virtually. Having successfully run a digital workshop myself, I’d like to debunk this myth.
Here I show how I ran it using Figma, a free collaborative design tool used primarily for creating and prototyping interfaces, such as websites or mobile apps. Although Figma is not a fit-for-purpose tool for running digital workshops (such as Google’s Jamboard, for example), it is versatile enough to enable them and, in my experience, provides an even better experience.
A few weeks ago, when my side of the world was already well into lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, a start-up reached out to me in its discovery phase. The startup had a product idea. What it did not have was a clear idea of who their primary users would be, in order to choose which specific market to target, and what the requirements should be for its minimum viable product (MVP).
To fill in those gaps, we started by following the double diamond process to first expand the problem space and then narrow it down. This helped us to identify all the possible user segments for their product, before selecting the most relevant segments that we chose to prioritise and keep in mind when developing the product further.
This expand-than-narrow thinking exercise is a great opportunity to get team members to share their ideas and visions for a product, which can bring a lot of value for all involved when done in a workshop environment. Workshops allow each member of the team to share their personal ideas and beliefs, and enable the whole team to converge on prioritised areas.
This gives teams the platform for constructive discussions and to reach an agreed direction on what their next steps should be. (For more on the value of workshops, the book Sprint by @Jake Knapp is a must read.)
To enable all this, virtually, some preparation work was needed. To set the scene, I began by creating the essential ‘virtual assets’ which included: whiteboards for each participant, post-it-like coloured boxes with text inside of them, prioritisation stickers (yellow and red), 2x2 graphs, table for the final priority areas.
On the following day, we were ready to go and all participants joined a Zoom call and logged in to Figma to get started.
The digital workshop involved the following:
What else is available today
As Jesse Powel put it, “knowledge work is becoming increasingly remote as online collaboration tools improve.” So why shouldn’t we also put workshops on digital platforms? It turns out that some companies are trying to enable that by developing the appropriate technology to support dynamic workshops online.
Google (@Gsuite) is one of them. As part of their strategy to create the work software of the future, it recently launched Jamboard, a free collaboration tool designed for virtual workshops, which can also be used in conjunction to their Jamboard digital whiteboard, worth $4,999.
To be fair, this tool provides everything you can think of, when it comes to real-life workshops: post-its, drawing boards, ability to put and take out images, different white boards, you name it.
With this tool, Google brought the physical workshop into the digital realm. But, it must be said, that is not the same as making workshop digital. By ‘bringing’ it to the screen exactly as they are in the analogue world, Google also carried over the limitations of physical workshops to the digital realm, which is arguably the land of ‘everything is possible’ (or should be).
In other words: Google did not fully consider how digital can add to the physical workshop experience, instead of simply replicating it.
To provide just three examples of the Jamboard experience:
After using Figma I felt constricted with Jamboard, which is ironic considering that the latter is the fit-for-purpose tool.
What this exercise has revealed to me is that workshops can go digital, no doubt about it.
Most of the limitations I’ve encountered so far when running digital workshops are related to the tools I used, rather than to a generic incompatibility between workshops and online experiences.
So far, I’ll stick with the impression that versatile tools like Figma can go a long way for enabling excellent digital workshops, while fit-for-purpose tools still have a long way to go to do the same.
Importantly, when building the collaborative tools of the future, we should not simply ‘bring’ physical activities into the digital realm exactly as they are. Instead, we should explore the limitless possibilities of the digital realm to expand our experiences and enable us to do things that would be impossible elsewhere.
When building the future, let’s empower our users with the malleability of the digital world.
In the meantime, those of us working from home can start by digitising activities that we used to believe were tied to their physical conditions, be that with a costly fit-for-purpose software or just an extra dose of imagination.
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