Effects of Emotions on Design-Thinking Workshops

May 23, 2022

UX designers always strive toward providing optimal usability to users. Many have adopted design-thinking methods to help them accomplish this goal. In this article, I’ll share some circumstances in which the design-thinking process might obtain either constructive or destructive outcomes. But, first, I’ll begin with some fundamentals about maturing a design through iteration when multiple stakeholders are involved.

User Experience and UX Design

Fundamental to User Experience is keeping our primary focus on gaining a deep understanding of users, what they need, what they value, their abilities, and their limitations. But UX researchers and designers must also take into account the business goals and objectives of the group managing a project. Following the UX design best practices that Don Norman and many others defined—and NN/g, IDEO, Frog, Apple, and many practitioners of user-centered design have institutionalized—is helpful in creating user-friendly products and applications. Well-designed products and applications increase the return on investment (ROI) for product owners and business leaders.

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UX design is a process whose sole objective is designing a system that offers a great experience to its users. This process at its core begins with empathy for the user. There is a myth that anyone can learn UX design processes, usability testing, persona creation, and prototyping. UX professionals have learned these processes and skills by gaining experience and mastering the art of UX design.

Working Toward Design Maturity

Design thinking is a methodology that we can use to increase the maturity of an application or product’s design. Figure 1 depicts the design-thinking process.

Figure 1—The design-thinking process
The design-thinking process

Empathy for the user is critical to the design-thinking process and can evolve into a deep understanding of the user. An amalgamation of mental models and behavioral needs is key to obtaining a deep understanding of your target users. You must balance their needs with product or application requirements.

“It is not the customers’ job to know what they want.”—Steve Jobs

Under Steve Jobs’s leadership of Apple, innovations such as the iMac, MacBook, iPod, iPhone, and iPad had huge impacts in the marketplace, and the company conquered the world. Apple conducted many design-thinking workshops to mature the designs of these products before launching them. These workshops involved multidisciplinary teams, with people from business, user research, marketing, hardware and software development, and management. They collectively generated lot of ideas that helped them progress toward a user-friendly, usable product or application. A service-design or user-research team would typically moderate such workshops.

“To design the best UX, pay attention to what users do, not what they say.”—Jakob Nielsen

Design-thinking workshops are packed with activities requiring active participation from all the participants. Before the pandemic, workshops were typically moderated face to face, but when necessary, such teams can collaborate online using tools such as MIRO or many others.

Identifying the Sweet Spot

What is the sweet spot that Figure 2 depicts? It’s the point of balance between business and user needs. You can obtain the answer to this question regarding your product’s sweet spot through a design-thinking workshop. The moderator chooses the topic of discussion for a design-thinking workshop. UX strategists, architects, and researchers often do a workshop with business stakeholders to understand the business goals and needs for a product or application. A workshop would also capture a description of the product or application’s target users. Such workshops have a short duration and focus on drilling down to the specific questions that can help the team understand the business and the users. This workshop is critical to understanding a product or service and can help the UX strategist, architect, and researcher create the product roadmap, whether they’re creating a new product or improving an existing product.

Figure 2—The sweet spot
The sweet spot

UX strategists, architects, and researchers connect for a brainstorming session and to create the product roadmap, which is the main topic of discussion as the multidisciplinary team works to identify the problem statements they need to resolve—those that would improve the product or service as a whole. These problem statements are the long-term goals for the product or service. Depending on the work the team needs to do, the UX strategist finalizes the design approach—Lean UX or agile UX. The four-square diagram shown in Figure 3 can be helpful in making this decision.

Figure 3—Four-square diagram
Four-square diagram

Constructive Versus Destructive Design-Thinking Workshops

Whether a workshop’s outcome leads to the discovery of this sweet spot depends entirely on the mindset of the moderator, which is critical if you are to achieve the best outcome from a workshop. The biggest challenge for UX architects, strategists, and researchers might be a business team that involves multiple stakeholders.

A design-thinking workshop is the best approach to ensure that all stakeholders align around achieving the same goal. For the UX architects or strategists working on a roadmap, the workshop’s tone really matters. If the moderator has a constructive mindset and neutral emotions, UX strategy and design can achieve better outcomes and meet the business’s goals. Such a design-thinking workshop is highly interactive and readily identifies the core problem areas the team needs to resolve through design. The workshop is very successful, with a lively exchange of ideas, and crucial insights that emerge enable the team to improve the service.

However, if the moderator has a destructive mindset and contrary emotions, the team fails to improve the business service or achieve their goals through UX design. The workshop is less interactive, poorly facilitated, and does not capture core problem areas that require resolution through UX design. The workshop is a failure, gathers many fewer crucial insights, and exchanges fewer ideas for improving the service.

The UX researchers’ goal is to look beyond the tip of the iceberg. When we fail to design applications based on the needs of users that play system-defined roles, or personas, the applications do not add value to the business service. A researcher should always quickly and easily resonate with the users who participate in their research, keeping a completely open mind. The brilliance of the researcher depends on successfully identifying the user needs; that of the designer, on deriving good solutions through brainstorming or collaboration sessions that result in simpler user interactions.


When participating in a design-thinking workshop, UX strategists should always follow these simple guidelines during user interviews so they can find the hidden part of the iceberg:

  • Never judge the user.
  • Never try to understand the user from your perspective as a designer.
  • Be an active listener during discussions.
  • Be open-minded, polite, and patient.
  • Understand and respect cultural differences.
  • Offer affirmations when necessary.
  • Eliminate technical biases and any other forms of bias.

The mental models that users and business stakeholders share throughout a design-thinking workshop are valuable in developing empathy for the target user and understanding the business needs behind a product or service. Data has shown that conducting design-thinking workshops can improve certain design-thinking factors and increase the value of a product or service to the business. 

Experience Specialist at the Experience Design and Engineering (EDGE) Centre of Excellence at HCL Technologies Ltd.

Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India

Anusha PichumaniAnusha began her information-technology (IT) career as a developer, then gained her knowledge of User Experience through formal education and by conducting user research and taking responsibility for user-interface design on her projects. Her expertise is in defining end-to-end UX design solutions for applications that address both business and users’ needs, in diverse domains, including insurance, retail, banking, healthcare, and engineering. She has over 15 years of work experience in sales, research, ecommerce, banking, insurance, testing, IoT, parking solutions, UX consulting, the Lean and agile methodologies, UX design processes; and interaction design for Web, mobile, and enterprise applications. She enjoys singing and reading about human psychology and design. She is loves mentoring and coaching budding UX talents and busy professionals.  Read More

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