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I'm going to lead a creative workshop for a tech company that want to make a new product that resembles an app-store. The goal of the workshop is to come up with concepts, sketches and mockups for a software in which a user can browse assets and upload them to an external device. We will be 6-7 people with different background and experiences (graphical designer, marketing, product owner, expert user, programmer). No one have previous experience with sketching graphical user interfaces.

The software platform will most likely be a responsive web site to accommodate desktop computers as well as mobile phones and tablets. Because of this, my first idea was to take a 'mobile first' approach on the workshop where the participants will be limited to sketching ideas for a mobile app. This could in theory lead to designs with a stronger focus on core functionality. On the other hand it can turn out to be too limiting. As we all know; a simple design is often very hard work, and for a novice it's perhaps easier to express your idéas without limitations.

What are the recommendations for a situation like this? Is it wise to take a 'mobile first' approach for a creative workshop with participants that are inexperienced with sketching?

  • My $.02, it would be better to atleast put them in that mindset beforehand than to throw out half their ideas because they don't scale to mobile. – DasBeasto Feb 1 '16 at 13:24
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    very good approach. With a focus group (yuck) its very hard to get people to focus and produce something simple. So mobile first makes total sense. – colmcq Feb 1 '16 at 14:53
  • mobile first. always. :) – DA01 Feb 1 '16 at 18:24
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I would say it's a great approach:

  • People are (on average) more familiar with phone interfaces than desktop interfaces these days
  • Phone interfaces require less drawing: big buttons big text, on a small screen. This means that they can draw many ideas fast, and iterate quickly in a short workshop.
  • The difficulties are more immediate: with a desktop, people will immediately fill the screen with chaotic stuff, unaware that they are making their screens entirely incomprehensible: mobile-first forces them to simplify much more, which is the most important thing they should learn. Even if they add the chaos back in when they go to desktop, they at least know which features are more important.
  • Giving people printouts of blank iPhones to draw on really helps to start the design process. Less so with blank iMacs, for some reason.
  • Touch screens are much easier to usertest: tap the sketch to simulate tapping the phone. No need to imagine peripherals like a keyboard and mouse. The pen and paper prototype is much closer to the real thing.

The only drawback I see, is that you need to have a feel for what works on phones: what are typical patterns, and which desktop-style things should you avoid (I've seen a lot of people draw pop-up overlays in phone interfaces, which makes very little sense). You should probably give them a bit of an introduction in the basic patterns.

  • Good points! I especially like the idea of introducing them to sketching. Maybe I can provide a cheat sheet with common layouts and design patterns. – filip Feb 2 '16 at 11:02
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Mobile first is a nice way to find MVP and designing the golden path[compose an e-mail for a mail app; ordering a meal for home delivery service.]. However; starting from the screen is not a good idea but start from service itself. Here are some more:

  • Have a demo project with you before starting such workshop.If it is not clear show them a finished workshop example. You can also make a small case for a simple task.

  • Not too deep at first sight, don't allow people to draw something before reframing the problem and its context. Who are the users; Why are they browsing an external device? Why do they need these assets? How can they browsing? Try to find interaction vision of non-defined product and this will lead you to have more concepts.

  • Try to focus on customer journey and + and - emotions (pain, delight). These can give you some insights on the project itself.

  • Don't stick on one idea and try to increase the details.

  • Use ready made framework printed paper examples (button, checkbox, logo box etc..) to make a collage. Get some more glue and give them some space and positive thinking...

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Since your group of stakeholders is so varied it may be a good idea to first have them list their priorities for the core functionality; and then have them sketch out how that functionality would translate to a mobile environment.

I would also recommend familiarizing them with the needs of interface design.

Jakob Nielen's "10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design"

Summary: Jakob Nielsen's 10 general principles for interaction design. They are called "heuristics" because they are broad rules of thumb and not specific usability guidelines.

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