UX Corner

Let’s play: Boost your “Hopes and Fears” exercise with LEGO®

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This is a guest post by the lovely Anja Mayr, senior UX Researcher for smart Helios, a digital innovation lab for Europe’s biggest private hospital group. She has been working as Service & UX Designer/Researcher and Innovation Consultant in digital product development & agencies for the past 7+ years. Follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Hopes and Fears, as described by Yaël in her post, is a great exercise for kicking off workshops and design sprints. It sets the stage by bringing out everyone’s expectations – aspirations and concerns alike, and helps us address and keep in mind these points throughout the journey.

One fun way to make this exercise more memorable and establish even better understanding among participants, is using the LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® (LSP) facilitation method. Yes, this means playing with Lego bricks, or, more precisely: thinking with your hands!

While I’m not a certified LSP facilitator, I’ve been introduced to the method by the wonderful Julian Kea and Cori Moore, running the Berlin LSP Meetup, one of many LSP community events around the world. I have used LSP successfully in quite a few workshops, usually for some sort of expectation setting/hopes and fears exercise. Bonus: it’s also a great icebreaker activity!

Think with your hands!

Visual thinking is really powerful. We like to encourage people in workshops to use visualisations, to draw pictures and maps etc. However, many people, and in particular non-designers, are hesitant & intimidated to do so. When “But I can’t draw!” is a common objection, it’s useful to think about other ways to allow people to comfortably create visualisations.

Enter LEGO! It’s often been used by almost everyone at some point in their lives, so it can come pretty naturally to use – after all, it’s really intuitive. Aside from familiarity, building models and “thinking with your hands” can activate your brain and your imagination even more intensely than simply drawing.

LSP is, in a nutshell, building metaphors with LEGO models, sharing & explaining your model, reflecting and learning together. It is perfect for getting to a shared understanding and alignment, much more than any purely verbal exchange would do.

Building with lego for a workshop
Photo Credit: Piotr Zięba

What you’ll need to run a workshop with LEGO® 

For this exercise, you’ll need the basic “Window Exploration Bag” from LEGO® (RRP £4.50/bag). Each bag includes approximately 50 pieces that are handed out to each participant, and includes a carefully balanced mix of bricks & elements with different qualities that are perfect for building metaphors. This unique mixture means that you can’t just use any old LEGO® bricks that you have lying around (or borrowed from your kids!) but is a worthwhile investment if you plan to run multiple workshops.

How it works

The basic setup is the same as for a simple Hopes & Fears exercise. But instead of people noting down their hopes and fears on post-its, they will build LEGO® models. You’ll also need more time, because jumping right into modelling metaphors won’t work. Instead you’ll need to warm participants into “build mode”, known as “skills building” in LSP:

Warm-up round

  • As a warm-up, start with 1-2 rounds of simple build exercises, e.g. “build the tallest standing structure you can build”, “build a duck” (or another animal, with only 2 colors).
  • Collectively share and compare the models. You will see the diversity of solutions that people build, but also start to see recurring patterns.
  • Keep the building time short for these. 2-3 minutes per round, plus 5 minutes sharing for each round, should be enough.
Building a lego model for a Hopes and Fears workshop
Photo credit: Hanshuman Tuteja

Metaphor-building warm-up round

  • This round, to practice metaphor-building, ask participants to build something related to a more personal question/emotion: e.g. “What was a strong emotion you recently had?”, “How was your start to the day?” or “What would be your ideal work experience/environment?”
  • Give them a little more time to build (4 minutes), then do a full round of each participant sharing their model with the group.
  • As facilitator, demonstrate how to ask open questions about the model to learn more about what the person building was trying to express.
Building lego models for design sprints
Photo credit: Piotr Zięba

Hopes and Fears round

  • Now it’s time to get serious! Split Hopes and Fears into two separate rounds of building. I would suggest starting with the “Fears”, to get that out of the way, and end with the “Hopes” on a more positive note (also, this way you can keep the aspirational models as “reminder objects” in the room at the end of the exercise!)
  • Start by asking participants what their biggest concern is for this project/sprint/meeting.
  • Give them 5-6 minutes to build their answer as a lego model.
  • When time’s up, each participant takes a turn to present their model to the group and explain what it means.
  • After, the facilitator and participants should ask the builder questions about certain aspects of the model, or point out other connections they see.
  • As facilitator, make sure to note down key takeaways on post-its and put them on the wall (as in the regular hopes and fears exercise).
  • Try to take pictures of the models before they are disassembled for the next round (combined with the post-it-notes, it makes for nice documentation afterwards).
  • Repeat everything for the “Hopes” question: Ask participants what they want to achieve with the current project, and ask them to build it, then share, reflect and learn.
  • Again, as facilitator, note down the key points on post-its and put them on the wall.
  • Make sure you keep the models in the room somewhere for the rest of the sprint, they will be a lively reminder of why everyone’s here and what you are trying to achieve.
UX workshop with Lego models
Photo credit: Hanshuman Tuteja

A stronger outcome

You will note during the sharing rounds, that people tend to listen much more closely to each other and that they will connect better to what the others are saying. This is because telling a story with a real world object helps us empathize, understand and memorize much more deeply. Participants will start building on each other’s ideas, associating based on the models, which is a great way to establish common ground, and to foster the co-creative spirit you want for getting into sprint mode!

More resources:

Have you used LSP for the hopes and fears exercise? What is your experience with it? Curious to learn & exchange!

Anja Mayr is a senior UX Researcher for smart Helios, a digital innovation lab for Europe’s biggest private hospital group. She has been working as Service & UX Designer/Researcher and Innovation Consultant in digital product development & agencies for the past 7+ years. Her academic background is cultural studies, but she also has an extensive professional experience in information science for media orgs.

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