Joh and I ran a dry run for our Agile2009 workshop tonight, held at the mighty Skiff in the North Laine, Brighton... and after a frantic day of last-minute prep, I was quietly pleased with how it went.

Discussing ideasThe session opened with a few slides setting the scene about mobile. These definitely need some work - whilst I know the material quite well, I hadn't prepped them and it showed. I waffled somewhat, but fortunately at such a speed that it was over quickly for the audience, and we could get on with the meat of the workshop: exploring how an iterative design process can help address the kind of constraints that mobile inevitably entails handling.

We split into two groups - with 9 attendees this gave us teams of 4 and 5 respectively. Persona in hand and product concept in mind, one team headed upstairs and the other stayed downstairs, each spending 15 minutes designing a product with the aid of copious amounts of card, post-it notes, the ubiquitous Sharpies and some rather natty 1.5x sized replica mobile phones my dad and his girlfriend had put together for the session. After 15 minutes we halted the groups and swapped one member between them, to act as a test subject for a 5-minute usability test... after which the groups convened to show off their work, and the results of the test, in a short demo session.

Persona and iPhone mockupConstraints were introduced, with each team having to transpose their product to a new device and form factor. Then rinse, repeat: another 15-minute design session followed by 10 minutes of demos, and a 10-minute run through to discuss learnings.

After the shaky start of my slides, I was pleasantly surprised by how things went: both teams managed to produce a useful design and test it within 25 minutes. One team definitely received worthwhile feedback from their test subject, the other got some but were less sure of its value. In any case, the notion that a group of people could go from zero to a coherent and in some way tested prototype in such a short space of time was both heart-warming and genuinely impressive... and I couldn't point at domain knowledge or mobile experience as being the cause of this success, with both Ribot and Mary (the participants with a background in mobile) located within one team, and no mobile experience in the other.

Learnings from the session displayed a comforting level of consistency between the two groups, too: both felt that moving to a smaller screen lent their design more focus, and that working within tighter constraints contributed to their creativity, rather than detracting from it. Time limits were clearly a problem (how could they not be?), and whilst one group found cross-platform consistency to be a tough trick to pull off, the other observed that their design changed less than they'd have anticipated in the move from iPhone to clamshell.

"Plot It" iPhoneBoth groups then consented to exchange beer for a pile of incredibly useful feedback, which we'll be using to further hone the session before running it in Chicago. And one comment which really chuffed me up was overhearing participants moot that firstly, this format might be an interesting way to open up a Hack Day type of event; and secondly, that he'd really like to see the product he'd worked on *actually get built*.

As always, thanks to Jon Markwell of Inuda and the Skiff for hosting, to Joh for gently stamping on some of my more ridiculous ideas and her rock-steady facilitation, and to everyone who came and participated :) There's a photo-set, yellow-hued thanks to my grotty HTC lens, here.

Update: slides from the warmup are here.