UX Sweatshop: Doing and applying user research


The UX Sweatshop is a fantastic opportunity for people to conduct user research in the real world, while being actively supported and guided, and then apply it in the workshop proper.

We will be researching and designing ‘a social media tool for families’. This example represents a good challenge as it requires participants to think about users who are unlike themselves, and because current social media tools tend to be more suited to technically proficient users.

Workshop structure

In the weeks prior to the workshop, participants will be given a log-on to a working website. In the lead-up to the workshop, they will conduct user research. Don’t be scared! You’ll have support in the form of ‘how-to’ information and access to advice from Gerry and John.

The workshop day will cover:

  • Reviewing the work to date: Review what they did pre-workshop. How was it? What techniques were effective? What didn’t work, and why? What can we as a group learn about the processes we undertook for the research.
  • Analysis: Review the findings. During this part of the workshop, we will pool all the material, and do a card sort or affinity diagramming exercise to tease apart themes, issues and opportunities. Participants will share stories from the field.
  • Making the data useful: We explore ways to make our data meaningful and create personas and scenarios or stories reflecting what we found.
  • Understanding design implications and setting design goals: We will consider what the implications of our research and analysis are. Can we truly design for a very broad range of users, or are we going to have to exclude some? How can we keep our exclusions to a minimum? Can we have a robust design that transcends multiple devices? How can we achieve that?
  • Design: We will divide into pairs or small teams and all work on a first pass of a high-level design for a key device. We will review initial designs and settle on a core approach (or approaches). Teams will then work on specific scenarios.
  • Testing/review: If time permits, we will conduct usability testing of proposed designs – we may call on one or more outsiders to be involved at this point as users, or the facilitators may role-play.
  • Summary and wrap-up: A full review of what we did during the day, and a discussion of possible next steps.


Participants will learn about:

  • Choosing user research techniques
  • Choosing appropriate participants
  • Conducting interviews
  • Running diary studies
  • Conducting best practice analysis
  • Analysing user research data
  • Communicating user research data
  • Applying user research findings to design

Target audience

Novice- to intermediate- level practitioners will benefit most from the ‘sweatshop’.

It should be particularly attractive to digital agencies or UX or Interaction Design teams that are seeking to provide their staff with a broad range of hands-on UX skills. (Indeed, it compares very favourably with attending a course on user-centred design.)

Expert practitioners would gain least, since presumably they would have a good understanding of, and experience in, conducting and applying user research. However, the fun and hands-on nature of the workshop may be attractive to some.

Materials provided

All attendees will receive a set of introductory material on signing up.

All attendees will have access to the entire set of data – including pre-workshop research, all materials produced on the day, and summative information published online within two weeks of workshop conclusion.