Creating work and sharing feedback with your clients in person is an important part of the creative process. A good working session allows you to take full advantage of a client’s subject matter expertise and to ask questions and refine your work in real time. Similarly, clients can learn more about the process, make the most of a tight project timeline, and ensure that everything is being considered in their redesign.

As the first point in the design process where clients will have a visual of a “real” site, wireframes present a prime opportunity for a working session. While they are visual, wireframes tread a fine line between abstract and concrete. This can be challenging to wrap your head around when you are not a user experience designer yourself. As such, the working session should be planned with care.

Wireframes and the final, live design.

Wireframes and the final, live design.

A good set of wireframes focuses on:

  1. Getting the right content on your pages, in the correct hierarchy
  2. Defining clear navigation schema and outlining interaction conventions
  3. Providing a clear guide for the visual designer to use for the basis of their work, without dictating to them

With this in mind, a working session should specifically be built around content and hierarchy. This will make the session more efficient and take the best advantage of the client’s knowledge. Here’s how you can master the process.

Before Your Working Session

  • Ensure that you have a clear idea of both the site’s structure and the goals for the redesign. Review any strategic materials you have available. These might include personas, marketing research, and similar documents.
  • Select the pages you’ll wireframe. Is your project an expansive site or a small one? Is the site task-oriented or is it focused on marketing? Identify which pages are most important to your project’s goals.
  • Select which of these pages you’ll work on in your session. If you have a small, task-oriented site, you may wish to work on all of them; if it’s an expansive marketing site, consider picking just 2 or 3 high-level pages which the UX designer can work back into the entire system of pages afterwards. Ideally, you don’t want to work on more than 4 to 5 pages in one session in order to avoid burnout.
  • Put together your team. Smaller working sessions are much easier to moderate than large ones. In addition to the UX designer who will be running the session, it’s useful to have someone familiar with the project’s strategy as well as your project manager. Have the client help you identify the most important people from their team to include based on the pages you have picked.
  • Prepare your materials. If you will have access to a good projector or external monitor, working in Axure or similar software is preferable to drawing on paper or a board. This will allow you to take clear notes directly on top of your work. Because content is going to be the focus of your session, it can be helpful to rough in a navigation scheme and consistent interface elements ahead of time.

During Your Working Session

  • Explicitly state the expectations for the session upfront. Describe what you’ll be working on and why.
  • Focus on what matters first. In the first part of the session, you need to ensure that the UX designer has enough information to work with to complete the deliverable afterwards, even if you don’t get to refine every single page. Go one wireframe at a time and, spending no more than 10 minutes on each, have the group describe the content that needs to be there. Rough it out. Don’t try to make it look good yet!
  • Take a deep dive second. That’s the time for refining. While you can spend longer than 10 minutes, you should still set a time limit for each wireframe to avoid being bogged down. 20-30 minutes for each is a good maximum.
  • Keep it moving. If you find the team is getting stuck on something, make a note and move on. Don’t waste your valuable time together—you should be building in time after the session to return to it.
Don’t be afraid to take notes directly on the wireframes! This is a great way to avoid breaking your flow.

Don’t be afraid to take notes directly on the wireframes! This is a great way to avoid breaking your flow.

What to Do After

Regardless of your project’s size, there should be time after the session for the UX designer to review the work that you’ve done with their expert eye. This will allow them to make adjustments and address any issues that you couldn’t work through in your session, and, if the project is a larger one, make sure these pages fit with the rest of the system. Have at least one more formal presentation with your client to review the work you’ve completed and ensure that any outstanding questions have been answered.

Why Working Sessions Matter

Remember, a single working session should never be a wholesale replacement for an iterative UX process; the true value is in incorporating the client’s knowledge. For this reason, working sessions are particularly well-suited to clients in highly specialized fields, or with extremely specific goals. Getting a chance to uncover needs and ask questions immediately means your wireframes will be more thorough—making your project more efficient as you avoid backtracking—and ensures that the client’s needs (and their prospects’) are met.