What Is A UX Discovery Workshop?

March 1, 2015

Man looking through binoculars.When I meet with a new client and discuss facilitating a UX Discovery Workshop, it’s not surprising that they often don’t know what I’m talking about. For someone who isn’t a UX practitioner, it’s not always an easy concept to grasp right away. But at it’s core, a Discovery Workshop is an in-person workshop used for understanding and solving difficult design problems.

One thing to note, these workshops aren’t about designing screens or coming up with a final solution. They’re a very quick, efficient way to explore an idea and come up with a design direction before starting a project that will give you, the client, the confidence that you’re going down the right path. It’s also about making human connections. Let’s face it, we’re all people, and if the Discovery Workshop turns into a longer relationship it’s good to get to know each other. So in that regard, from my standpoint, the workshop is also about gaining a deeper understanding of the client and the overall landscape of the project.

From a structural standpoint, the workshops are broken down into two parts: Divergent Thinking, when we focus on exploring ideas and problems, and Convergent Thinking, when we select one or two of these ideas and start to form solutions.  So what really happens in one of these workshops? Here’s are some of the activities involved.


This first thing we do is get ready to explore ideas and think creatively. After we begin with some fun icebreaker games to get everyone feeling comfortable with each other, we move on to understanding your business. This includes the history of success and failure of the current business. Honesty is key here. Remember that line about those who cannot remember the past are something-something…

It’s also key to talk about the reason for this new project. Is the team fending off a new competitor? Breaking into a new market? Where do they want to be in a year? In 5 years? How do they expect to make that journey?

For the entirety of the workshop, we want the project stakeholders in the room to understand their goals. And when I say stakeholders, we want all of them. Especially whoever is in charge of the budget. I’ve seen many teams put a lot of effort into a workshop only to have a stakeholder come in at the last moment and not be on the same page as the rest of the team. A classic swoop ‘n poop. Talk about a waste!

The next step is to understand the product. For large, complex software, this can take a bit of time, and at first may seem laborious to a team that already knows their product. However, for me to help the team, I need to understand the product, too. We don’t talk about the nitty gritty details unless we need to, but it’s critical to get a solid overview of the features and functionality so that I can steer the workshop, ask constructive questions and look for areas to improve.

I always schedule time for us to critique the competition, and this is usually fun. Who doesn’t like to make fun of their competitors? It’s a great way to understand the industry and demonstrate to the workshop participants that even if they’re not the current market leader, everyone can be taken down a peg and have their weaknesses exposed.

Understanding the users and customers is next. This discussion is less about the demographics of the users and more about their goals, motivations and attitudes. To design with a true user-centered approach, understanding the users and distinguishing between users and customers is key. I take all of this information and we collaboratively build out some rough User Profiles. These won’t be full-on personas, as they’re based solely on internal feedback, but being able to reference different user types will help the team start to design with more intent and less guesswork.

Stay tuned for Part II of this series where I’ll talk about our Converge exercises and what happens after the Discovery Workshop. [sgmb id=”1″]