4 exercises to spruce up your team's UX skills

By Jennifer DeRome | February 12, 2016
4 exercises to spruce up your team's UX skills

Springtime is one of my favorite times of the year. Every time good old Punxsutawney Phil doesn’t see his shadow, I get excited for the world around me to fill with life and color. Cleaning out your closet, putting away your winter clothes, and plotting camping trips might spring to mind, but what about giving your UX team a refresher? Even the most skilled teams come across a tough challenge or find themselves in a rut. Running through a few simple exercises can help keep them sharp all year long.

Our motto here at UserTesting is to conduct user research early and often, and that motto applies to career development, too. Now is the perfect time to gather your team for a little skills spruce-up. Here are a few exercises you can run with your team—or on your own—to keep your UX and CX skills fresh.

1. Alternative uses

This simple exercise was originally conceived by J.P. Guilford in 1967, and I’ve participated in this exercise several times myself. It’s a great way to loosen up your team and get them thinking creatively.

How to do it

  • You’ll need: A piece of paper and pen for each participant (or a whiteboard), and a random object you have around the office. It can be anything from a paperclip to a coffee mug to a pair of shoes.
  • Duration: Two minutes.
  • The exercise: Present your object to your team and ask them to write down as many alternative uses for the object in two minutes.

This exercise is a great way to help inspire your team to approach challenges in an unexpected way and overcome roadblocks in their projects.

2. Remote associates test

This test was developed by Sarnoff and Martha Mednick in 1962, and while it technically is used to gauge creative potential, I find it’s a great way to challenge yourself and your team.

How to do it

  • You’ll need: A list of associated words, which you can find online here.
  • Duration: The test can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, depending on how many words you require.
  • The exercise: Have your team go to the site noted above, and read each selection of word groupings. The object is to come up with one additional word that can be associated with all three words. For example:

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 4.38.32 PM

It’s not always easy to see how things are connected. This exercise helps your team think beyond their immediate surroundings and consider how seemingly unrelated problems could, in fact, be connected.

3.  Mindful listening

Empathy is an important skill for anyone in the UX field, and developing good listening skills is a great way to practice becoming more empathetic. I liked this exercise, from Pocket Mindfulness, because it uses something many of us experience on very personal level a daily basis: music.

How to do it

  • You’ll need: One set of headphones for each participant and one song randomly chosen for each participant that they haven’t heard before.
  • Duration: Anywhere between five and 15 minutes, depending on the song length.
  • The exercise: Part of being empathetic is being mindful of others and their (and your) surroundings. It’s easy to bring our own personal judgements into any project or discussion, and this exercise helps teach participants to approach a project or challenge without carrying their own ideas and prejudices with it.

Have each participant choose a piece of music they’ve never heard before. It can be any genre and any duration (but for the sake of the exercise, I recommend selecting songs that are 10 minutes or less.)

Have each participant find a quiet spot to sit down, put on their headphones, and close their eyes. As they listen to the song, instruct them to focus on simply listening without making any judgments on whether or not they like the song. The objective is to fully listen to every aspect of the song without passing judgement.

Once everyone has listened to their songs, you can include a discussion session to share any observations or comments your team may have.

This exercise will help your team not only develop active listening skills but also helps train them to be receptive to feedback and understand the value of observation.

4. Word salad

When we’re faced with challenges, it’s often easy to resort to the first solution that comes to mind. But the first solution might not be the best—sometimes, it’s beneficial to explore multiple possibilities. This exercise is both challenging and can produce some pretty entertaining results!

How to do it

  • You’ll need: A five-letter word—it can be anything!
  • Duration: Five minutes.
  • The exercise: Each participant should write a five-word sentence, with each word beginning with the first letter of the master word. For example:

Screen Shot 2016-02-11 at 9.47.51 AM

This exercise will help keep your team sharp, with its short duration and strict constraints. It also helps encourage your team to take multiple approaches to a problem, rather than simply settling on the first that comes to mind.  

Exercising your UX skills doesn’t have to be a chore—and you don’t have to wait until Spring to do it either—challenge your team early and often!

How do you inspire your team? Share your favorite exercises with us on Twitter!  

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About the author(s)
Jennifer DeRome

Jennifer is a Senior Content Strategist for UserTesting. When she's not dreaming up new ways to connect with audiences, you can find her traveling around the world or enjoying a glass of wine with friends.