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Workshopping the design of a faculty building #refurbishment

At my university a couple of buildings are up for refurbishment. This is a complex task with many stakeholders, stakeholder groups, conflicting needs, limited budgets, etc. The challenge is to deliver a space that works on multiple levels for multiple people. The worst case outcome of this process is a space that is not welcomed by the users and that everyone complains about until the next refurbishment.

When gathering requirements the challenge is to ask the right questions. But what are the right questions? 

The project manager and I began drafting questions and they tended to be functional questions like "what should a work space be", "what is a teaching space" that would have provided answers like "open plan/ individual office space" or "a 20 computer lab/ dry lab/ messy lab". These are questions that may lead to functional answers and do not really help in designing spaces that staff will like to be in, or welcome students, or that foster creativity, etc.

We need to ask different questions to obtain the deeper more meaningful and experiential answers. But what questions do I ask? Funnily enough this was the right question to ask at this stage, and I found the answer in this paper.  Lim, Y., & Odom, W. (n.d.). On the importance of framing questions for user research in the experience-centered design process. Retrieved June 23, 2015, from

After reading this I designed a short 1.5 hour workshop aimed at gathering the kind of information the project manager and architects could use as a foundation for designing a space people could really relate to and like to be in. Because they seek personal meaning some of the questions are possibly confronting, and I wasn't sure if this would work at all, but it did, and the feedback from the project manager indicated he would have me back again for the next project.

Using the following worksheet I employed a very simple Design Thinking Workshop approach described below.

The approach used:
1) Provide context, why are we here? (preferably from a Head of Faculty/Business Owner)
2) Describe the process we are about to go through.
3) Everyone spends 30 minutes providing responses. Advise to only write down what people are comfortable writing down - some views can also be conveyed to the project team or others out of session if desired, or not at all.
4) Going around the table everyone gets to present their views (the facilitator must ensure this happens).
5) Themes: During the presentations some discussion will happen but try to keep it moving - in the mean time someone writes down emerging themes.
6) The captured themes are presented and everyone has the option to add missed themes.
7) The resulting documentation (completed worksheets) and the themes are collected and later disseminated to the participants and other relevant stakeholders such as faculty heads and architects.

Hope this helps someone, give it a go!


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