I truly believe that User Experience is a practice. It is both set of skills used habitually and activities that must be done repeatedly to improve. In order to keep that belief central to our team’s ethos ad culture, we gather twice a month to train.
When I came to FCB, Gym was a serious activity and often felt like a burden if it was your turn to share work. I knew that Gym needed a change when I inherited ownership of the meeting a year and a half ago. Despite a minor hiatus due to Covid and working remote, it’s been an ongoing highlight of our weeks.
Learning from each other allows us to improve our skills in a low-pressure environment while improving team engagement. The activities are designed to be fun & light-hearted. Making empathy maps about Debbie in Montana isn’t as memorable as making one for a T-Rex with a mechanical arm. We make it a safe space for creativity and trying new things by setting the stage as a little ridiculous as we try new things. Above all, it provides time and space for each member of the team to be an expert and share their knowledge.
The activities can be grouped into 4 categories:
- Case studies & recent work,
- Peer education,
- Mock projects, and
- Creativity building.
This gives us a lot of room to “play” creatively and explore the practice of user experience.
1. Case studies / recent work
Every month, we make time for several team members to share something they are working on inside or outside work. These sessions allow us to celebrate success and learn from each other’s challenges. We take 30 minutes each month for a show & tell from 1-2 people.
Something you’re proud of
Show off! Sharing work or passion products that a teammember is proud off spreads excitement about the work and allows the team to celebrate each other. We also learn about our teammates’ lives outside of work when they bring passion projects to share.
A tricky problem you had to solve
Sometimes clients delivery tricky problems or feedback. Or we need to prototype an experience to test and it required learning new skills. Sharing problems and solutions helps the team see how others approached the problem and gain new perspectives.
New technology implementation
Sometimes we get to work in newer technologies such as voice and chat or even bleeding edge tech like NFTs. Team members who work in these spaces share work so that team members without the same opportunity still have a chance to learn how projects involving them work (and so they have an identified resource when it’s their turn to work in these spaces).
2. Peer education
We also recognize the experts among us by teaching each other new skills and exploring ways we can grow our practice and business. Knowledge and expertiese is shared in 2 ways, either as a presentation/talk or as group activities that allow the team to experience the concept or skill.
While we’re remote, these can feel a little more rigid and formal, but often topics and skills are shared in a traditional presentation or lecture. A member of our team is currently working on NFTs and will be presenting to the team on what they are, how they work and what opportunities they bring for us as a business. We’ve covered topics as wide ranging as micro interactions, inclusivity, designing audits and global privacy regulations.
While lectures and presentations are useful, when concepts can be shared using an experience I’ve found the information sticks better with the team. The experiential part can be group conversations, ways to apply the concept or experiencing the concept. A couple of my favorite experiential learning sessions were a disability simulation and UX Haikus.
When the team needed a primer on the changes and updates in WCAG 2.1 accessibility guidelines, we had a gym session on the topic. I didn’t want it to be a boring lecture on the nuances of the guidelines, so I designed an experience for the team that simulated a variety of disabilities. The team were randomly assigned a disability – one team member couldn’t use their hands and had to use a head stick, another wore sunglasses slathered in vaseline and yet another had on sound-canceling headphones. They were then given instructions to complete the same task. It highlighted the need for accessibility and gave most of the team their first experience with disability.
UX Concept Haikus
Our team has added a fair number of new team members over the past few months, most of them at their first UX job. I wanted an activity that would help reinforce UX concepts in a creative way, that was inspiring and fun. I landed on UX Haikus. The team were given a few minutes with randomly assigned concepts and had to write a haiku that explained or illustrated their assigned concept. It turned into a fun activity that led to
3. Mock projects / deliverables
We often use gym to practice making a variety of design artifacts – it gives us a place to try out new techniques in a low-stakes environment or practice workshop exercises before implementing them. These activities are pretty common practice for UX/design teams, so I try to spice them up (just a bit) to improve engagement and enjoyment.
The card game Superfight has been an endless trove of ridiculous user generation. The characters and attributes randomly drawn from the deck create users such as a t-rex with knives for hands or a boy scout with a pet flying monkey. From there, practicing making artifacts about users that can’t possibly exist lowers inhibitions and makes it easier for team members to chime in and participate.
4. Creativity training
These are some of my favorite activities to facilitate and participate in. It’s our chance to embrace some creative play for the sake of exercising creative muscles. I’ve collected these activities from former bosses, books, conferences and colleagues. They range from pure creative play to a little more practical design problem solving & thinking. We often pair these activities in gym with the work share-outs or a presentation to balance the activities.
There have been hits & misses (especially during the pandemic) but these exercises were hits with the team..
Everyone re-wrote lyrics to famous songs in emojis and then the team had to guess the song each person had translated. Everyone had fun while stretching their brains. The exercise worked on visually representing concepts while also showing the limits of replacing words with images on comprehension.
Make the connection
Using a random pair generator, everyone is assigned 2 nouns (Characters, celebrities, places, objects, etc.). They are given 2 minutes to come up with a connection between the 2 objects. This exercise pushes the team to think about familiar objects with a different perspective as well as to look for points of commonality.
The twice a month meetings have helped foster better relationships across 2 distinct UX teams that don’t otherwise interact on a regular basis. The team has been more engaged with their work and I’ve seen my account team apply the new concepts. I’ve also witnessed an increased confidence from my team when tackling new problems.