September 17, 2015   |   4min read

Kick-off workshops: our favourite tools

This is part 2 of this post.

Most of these tools are based on our design studies and books like Universal Design Methods. We have modified and adapted them for our purposes. Feel free to use, reuse and repurpose them!


Problem: Hidden personal goals prevent the team from communicating openly

An instant classic with our team, we now use this method for almost every project, both external and internal, to determine everyone’s goals. The premise is simple: have your client imagine the product has launched and hold a retrospective (if you are not familiar with Agile/Scrum, find out more here). Generally, goals tend to fall into one of the following categories: process, metrics and reputation.

photo with postits

All of these are very important to understand clients’ motivations, so make sure you discuss the outcomes in detail! Gosia also discussed futurespectives as a great tool for teambuilding here.

User Journey Maps

Problem: “Every feature is important!”

Journey Maps are a very versatile tool used across all disciplines of design, especially in Service Design. They help you and your client make sense of the process users go through and help prioritize features, which is key for creating great information architecture. I personally use the template below:

User Journey Map

In this version, you first consider how the steps in the process make the user feel (at this point, you should think about the wider context as well: is the user in a crowded subway car during rush hour? Or more likely to be lying on the couch on a lazy Sunday morning? Remember that your product will never be used in a vacuum). Then you decide which features are vital – it is very important that this is done in a disciplined manner. Example: To book a hotel room, it is vital to know where it is, get a description of the room and enter your data. It is NOT vital to see pictures, create and account, see a map of where the hotel is etc. The flow would work without these features. Of course, to create a great experience, you will probably want to add all those extras – which is why it’s important to clarify before the activity that you are not actually throwing away any features, you are just deciding which ones are the most important ones. There are numerous tried and tested templates for this kind of map, so do switch it up for each project individually.

Point Voting

Problem: But we have business goals!

That’s cool. We all want to make a living out of this somehow. Our products need to make sense. However, it’s not wise to let marketing/financial goals overshadow usability – it will come back to haunt you later. So we ask clients to pick 1-3 things that are most important to them and then make sure to keep them in mind when designing apps. To do so, we use a point voting method: everyone gets a finite amount of points (we suggest 3) and then assigns them to the features that they think are key from a marketing or conversion perspective. Done!

Point Voting

Visual Extremes

Problem: “I know you said the TV ad would be animated, but that’s a cartoon!”

The client chose to hire a designer/consultant, because they are not designers. The quote above (taken from a Sharp Suits poster) is of course extreme, but you should not expect your client to imagine everything the same way you do. To agree on look and feel we use a tool we call Visual Extremes. To pinpoint a quality you pick screenshots from existing apps like so:

Visual Extremes 1

It’s important to pick screens that are overall similar but differ in that one specific aspect, in the case above: the more prominent font. Both screens are light with an accent colour, but the fonts highlighted are very different. Making a smart choice like this will help you stick to the topic at hand. To visualize the possible outcome, here is a screenshot from Peercisely with the sliders from the original activity.

Visual Extremes 2

This tool can be used to great effect over Google Docs and be part of a conference call workshop.

App Personalities

Problem: Why is this design so juvenile?

Apps are products. Products have personality traits. If they aren’t cohesive, the product will feel off, like a plastic spoon pretending to be silverware. We aim to define the personality of our apps early on, so we can check all the design decisions against this benchmark. Below are three examples of popular apps matched to personalities:


A calendar is like a personal assistant because it keeps you organized but doesn’t give opinions/recommendations. The App Store is like a schnauzer because it finds things quickly and has low-key branding. eHarmony is like your best friend, because it knows who’s best for you and isn’t afraid to give an opinion, and so on. I personally love using dog breeds, but I know that sometimes stereotypical people work better. You can prepare a deck beforehand or make a character up on the spot, but make sure you record and keep it – it might come in handy when you’re deciding whether a crazy lime green or a toned down maroon is the way to go.

Keep hacking

These are five tools we use a lot, but there are countless others and as you can see, most of ours are adapted versions of tools from other disciplines. The best advice is to keep experimenting and most of all – keep an open mind. Silly games might bring unexpected results.

Have a great tool you love to use in workshops? Share it in the comments!

Magda Zadara

UI Designer

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If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask!