Co-Design and Other UX Workshop Tales

Stavros Garzonis helps us to practice workshopping skills and learn about the risks, benefits, do’s and don’ts for planning and executing successful co-design workshops.


In a workshop which merged advice with practical examples of common workshopping issues for participants, Stavros opened by demonstrating some of the common workshop faux pas that should be avoided by facilitators. He recommended setting the scene early for the workshop by explaining what’s in it for your audience, and introducing yourself in a relevant way. No-one wants to know your ambitions for timekeeping in a workshop – they are going to switch off straight away.

UX workshops are designed to capture information, problem solve and make decisions. Stavros highlighted a number of exercise techniques we use to meet these aims, including dot voting, poker planning and drum roll voting. But why do we really do these workshops? Because we want to understand the context, kick-start the design process and to bring measurable impact? At the centre of it all is the desire to engage people.

Stavros introduced the idea of co-design, where design professionals empower, encourage and guide users to develop solutions. There is a bit of debate about who should be involved in co-design workshops, but Stavros argued that you should include users, stakeholders and a UX agent.

In a typical co-design workshop, Stavros recommended a workshop for up to 20 people, with a facilitator on each of four round tables, managed by a meta-facilitator.



Brainstorm the challenges you have as a workshop facilitator, or the issues you have encountered as a workshop participant


Throughout this exercise, Stavros continued to demonstrate and comment on some of the facilitator techniques you should avoid. In reviewing the exercise, he stressed the importance of having clear, visible instructions available so people know what they are expected to do for an activity, and avoiding any unnecessary interruptions.



Workshop participants were asked to group their workshop challenges around the the following issues:

  • Should we workshop?
  • What’s the right workshop?
  • Do we need to be in control?
  • How do we create lasting impact?


There are extra risks in co-design workshops. Users insulting a stakeholder by saying something is rubbish, stakeholders bulling the users, and the UX agent losing face to the client are just some of these challenges. Stavros recommended collaborating with your key stakeholders in advance to establish the workshop objectives to help mitigate some of these problems.

Workshops are valuable when you have done your homework, but need to collaboratively explore the problem space, or collaborative explore the solutions. Stavros discussed how to fit workshops with projects and design the workshop to meet your objectives, including some time management tips:

  • Plan defensively
  • Pilot new exercises
  • Learn with each workshop
  • Play the concertina (consciously)

When planning exercises, Stavros recommended knowing where you want to get to, which allows for planned spontaneity that responds to participants’ needs. He also recommended allowing time to express stories, without becoming too bogged down with visuals.

We should brief our users by setting them homework ahead of the workshop. This helps them to reflect before they arrive, grounds the workshop in reality, generates empathy from stakeholders and acts as a bonding material between users. However, we should also brief our stakeholders so they understand that they are there to listen, engage and be mindful of potential sensitivities. You can do this by bringing them in half an hour before the workshop to go through the objectives and prepare them.

In terms of team dynamics, Stavros recommended splitting client functions into different teams, but grouping similar users together so they can empathise with each other. He suggested aiming for a 1:1 ratio or more users than clients, and ensuring you have a meta-facilitator who can pull everything together across the wider group.



Use coloured sticky dots to categorise items on Stavros’ “early” checklist.


  • Green dots represent advice that you’ll now try and apply more consciously
  • Red dots represent advice that you have doubts about or disagree with
  • Blue dots represent advice where you have questions


In conclusion, Stavros shared several other checklists, including his “Beforehand” checklist and his “Materials” checklist, and discussed how to maximise legacy with “During”, “Straight After”, “Day After” and “ASAP After” checklists.

Finally, your participants are giving their time and doing something for you. You need to acknowledge their input and thank them.

Stavros Garzonis

Stavros is a scientist trapped in user experience consultant’s body. He has been studying, teaching and practicing User Experience since 2002, building a diverse skill-set of UX research, design, management and mentoring. As a Senior UX consultant at cxpartners, he works with international brands delivering user research and design, but particularly hooked on the sweet-spot in-between.

Stavros also strongly believes in the value of community in UX (and in life). He was the President of UXPA UK and co-chair of UXPA 2014 International conference, and still actively involved as a UX Google Expert.