Emmet Dunne
Written by Emmet Dunne on 11 June 2018

At Kooba we start every one of our projects with a workshop. We take time to speak to key stakeholders, and if possible the potential users of the site or digital experience we will be delivering. And we make sure to get clarity on the objectives and priorities for any work we do.

Sometimes that confuses our clients. Other times potential clients see this element of the process on a proposal and suggest that we can probably remove it because “we know what we want” or “we just want to A/B test a couple of landing page designs”. 

That’s a mistake, but it is understandable. 

It’s perfectly normal for a client to have second-guessed their own motivations and arrived at the ‘answer’. But taking that approach can lead to a lot of wasted effort, a lot of heartache: and a site or digital experience that doesn’t necessarily do the job that it was assumed it would.

Define Meaningful Objectives

Instead, the first step of any project - and the first question that any workshop should focus on - is the question of ‘why’? In other words, what is the actual objective of this project? What is the company actually trying to achieve? Answering that question involves going deeper, and establishing what precisely success looks like in terms of meaningful business metrics.

To give a simple example, let’s consider the response to the common objective of “we’d like to get more inbound leads for the business”. 

This is a fair objective, certainly better than “we’d like a website”. You would probably want to add some detail around exactly what form those leads will take (see below), and it would also be a good idea to get clarity around exactly why more inbound leads are important, but as an objective it’s certainly something to work with.

And most importantly, once we have that knowledge, an agency is able to bring to the table a variety of approaches and responses that can deliver on that goal. Each can be analysed and discussed. We can look at examples of work (from ourselves or other agencies) that might add value in this context, and drill down into the actual process by which inbound leads are created and optimise at every point along that journey.

That, or something a little like that, is the workshop experience. It is, fundamentally, the difference between picking up and populating a simple website template, and delivering actual bespoke solutions to actual business challenges. It is the difference between failure and success - and that is ultimately why it matters.

But in addition to objectives, part of the workshop and research process involves thinking about audience, and this question that again - and in a different way - demonstrates the importance of the workshop process.

Thinking About The Audience

Digital design and development is ultimately a visual undertaking, and that simple fact can complicate things when if comes to working with clients during a project. The bottom line is that people tend to have strong opinions about visual things and all too easily “I don’t like it” becomes more important than “it’s not doing the job it’s supposed to do”.

When that happens you are no longer designing a solution to a problem, you are creating something that one individual likes to look at: they would be better off going to an art gallery rather than undermining the business they work for.

But again, the reaction is perfectly understandable. That’s why defining the audience during the workshop is so crucial - it helps us avoid this trap.

To continue the example from above, if we wish to deliver inbound leads, do we have a sense of who we’d like these inbound leads to be, or what sort of people they might be? 

Documenting the answer to that question does two (related) things:

  • 1. It gives us a clear understanding of who we are designing for, and can help with decision making throughout the project. What else do they like? What do they respond to? What experiences are they used to, and what will they find novel? We should have answers to these questions - and a workshop can provide them
  • 2. It can help us think more objectively when it comes to judging work - and help set aside personal preferences in favour of the perspective of the user persona. It provides a way to take ‘heat’ out of creative decisions and add cool logic.

The second of those points is important. In fact at Kooba we think it is so important we’ve stuck the phrase “you are not your user” on the wall in big letters, in case any errant employee or client forgets the simple truth that ultimately personal ‘opinion’ doesn’t matter, and that what works for them may not necessarily work for the target audience.

Only the workshop helps flesh out that audience and make them real in the project team’s collective mind.

Measuring success

At the end of any project there is a mirror image of the workshop: the post launch evaluation meeting. That meeting is the final confirmation of the importance of the initial workshop.
It is when we look at the objectives we agreed, and the audience we specified, and can determine how successful the project has been. In many cases, we’re able to look at specific metrics and establish what has changed - and by how much.

This is an invaluable part of the process, but of course it would be completely impossible if we had not established what success looks like initially. Having that sort of clarity enables us to evaluate what has succeeded, what needs to be looked at again, and where we might do next (all good relationships being long term of course)

It is one more reason why the workshop is the foundation of a smart digital strategy that prioritises effectiveness over personal opinion, and delivers real success as a result.

Emmet Dunne

Author: Emmet is the founder and Managing Director at Kooba. That role involves a few tasks but most importantly, he looks after Tommy the office dog.