The visual side of design is something most people can relate to versus the abstract nature of user flows and journey maps. Yet this can be a double-edged sword. Visual design exploration can uncover strong opinions, yet stakeholders might not have the ability to articulate what they’re looking for in their future product or service.

This subjectivity can quickly eat into a project’s time and throw things off-course. Gaining rapid consensus of what the design style and direction will be is what the 20-second gut test aims to solve.

We’ve written about this workshop before, and now you can consume it in video form.

Keep reading if you need a more detailed breakdown.

What you’ll need

This workshop needs some prep, often up to half a day before you’re meeting your client. It’s important to get all stakeholders in the room for this one, so plan ahead to make sure they’re all present. The risk here is not having everyone’s voice heard, which could derail the design phase later on.

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For materials you’ll need a keynote or Powerpoint deck (and make sure you have all the dongles for connectivity), printed score sheets, and sharpies.

The Pre-Prep

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The preparation for this workshop involves a lot of hunting and gathering. You’ll need to have a good idea of your client’s industry, competition and aspirations - most of which will have been gathered in the research phases of the project.

Spend your half day collecting various screen grabs or clippings that best represent a broad spectrum of your client’s requirements. If you’re stuck for what to look for take a look at the original brief and start with the biggest brands that come to mind. Then work your way down from there.

Start screen-grabbing the obvious, aspirational designs. We like to aim for 20 strong candidates, but make sure you’re finding design examples that run the full spectrum - from high-end to some jokers. These jokers can provide a lot of insight… if you throw some really off-piste, whacky design styles in there, they’ll elicit a reaction, good or bad.

Try not to show just ‘screen design’ either. Show other things like interior design, architecture or movie posters. This is where your taste and curation abilities come in. What you’re aiming for is a strong range of design styles.

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Next, add all 20 screen grabs into a keynote or powerpoint deck. For each slide, assign a letter from the alphabet, so first slide is A, second is B and so on. Make sure this is clearly placed on each slide.

For a nice touch add a 20 second delay to each slide (that’s where it gets its name), and auto-scrolling. This helps stakeholders see the screen grab in context versus just a quick snapshot.

The Workshop

With your stakeholders in a room, introduce what you’re going to do. At this point hand out a score sheets to each attendee.

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These score sheets will have as many rows as your slides. Each row is assigned a letter of the alphabet, with a Likert scale showing a range of 1-5. 1 has the stakeholder strongly disliking the screen shown, and 5 has the stakeholder strongly liking.

Play on your deck. Your stakeholders will mark each screen with their preference. The 20 seconds for each slide enforces the most ‘visceral’ or ‘gut’ reaction to the aesthetics shown on-screen. It’s intentionally short and snappy.

Once finished, collect the sheets and quickly calculate the results. Use our handy spreadsheet (links provided below) to provide the average score and heat map for each slide shown.

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A trick we do at Clearleft: quickly go back through the slides and change the colour of the top-ranked slides as the room discusses their likes and dislikes, as per the calculated averages. Being able to show the top- and bottom-ranked slides makes it easier to discuss their merits and, of course, why the group collectively ranked these as they did.

The Outcomes

The most important aspect of this workshop is the discussion at the end. The opinions around why the group collectively chose certain styles over others is what you need to establish a clear design direction.

Chances are you’ll be a lot closer to nailing the direction faster than simply exploring from scratch, plus it’s given your stakeholders a way to articulate what they like and don’t like.


Be sure to grab the scoresheet and results calculator to help you when running your next gut test workshop.

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