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The Metadata Brainstorm Exercise

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metadata brainstorm exercise with post-it notes and cookies

Are you starting from scratch with metadata? Maybe you already have metadata but it’s not working. Identifying the right metadata can feel like an overwhelming task. You might wonder, how do I describe this asset? What will people search for? What type of metadata field should I use? Despite all those valid questions, getting started with metadata can actually be pretty simple. Start with your users informing the metadata. All you need are some Post-it Notes, printouts of assets, and cookies.

How are you going to get metadata out of Post-it Notes and cookies? Well, the cookies are to lure your unsuspecting co-workers into helping you come up with metadata. The Post-it Notes and other materials are for the interactive metadata exercise. You’ll have printouts of actual assets and will ask your group of volunteers to describe the assets.

After about an hour of the exercise, you’ll have unbiased feedback on how people want to search for real assets in your DAM system!

Goals for the metadata exercise are to:

  • Get a great sampling of the terms users will use to search for assets
  • Understand how users want to be able to use the DAM system
  • Gather thoughts on how other groups and users in different areas of the company will want to use the system and how they will search
  • Glean any other ideas or feedback that this sample group feels will be helpful to keep in mind or consider as you define the metadata fields and categorization

metadata brainstorm exercise.jpg

The metadata exercise

Materials needed:

  • 10-15 participants
  • 1-1.5 hours
  • 20-40 printed pictures of assets from your DAM system
  • Giant Post-it Notes
  • Small Post-it Notes
  • Pens and markers
  • Tape
  • Cookies/other treats (optional, but a tasty way to boost participation)


Select 20-40 assets that represent common assets in your asset library. Print the assets out. Group any like assets and tape them to the giant Post-it Notes. List the following questions on the giant Post-it Notes:

  1. What is each asset highlighting?
  2. How would you use each asset/what would you use each asset for?
  3. What is most important to you about each asset?
  4. In an ideal state, what would you search to find each of these assets?

Hang the giant Post-it Notes around the room.


Participants go around to each giant Post-it and answer the questions, writing one word or answer per Post-it Note and affixing it to the corresponding giant Post-it.

Give participants about 20 minutes for the exercise, depending on how many giant Post-its and asset examples you’re using.


After everyone has finished adding their ideas, review them with the team to clarify any responses. Be sure to take notes during the debrief either separately or right on the Post-its.

Metadata brainstorm tips

  • Keep your groups small. You can run multiple sessions but keep your group size around 10-15 people. This will allow for good, productive discussions.
  • Think globally. Do you have users in different countries? Make sure they’re represented in your participant groups.
  • Avoid leading questions or conversations. Let participants tell you what they’re thinking, not the other way around. Feel free to ask different questions or variations of the suggested questions but make sure you’re not leading your participants to specific answers.
  • Leave enough time at the end for discussion. There will be a lot to talk about. Make sure you have time to get to all of the giant Post-its.
  • If possible, enlist a note taker to help capture clarification responses.
  • Just because they want it doesn’t mean it’s right for your site. Users might suggest terms that are only relevant to them. You need to determine if they’re relevant in relation to the other metadata in your site.

Take time to reflect. After you’ve gone through this exercise, find a way to organize the responses and determine how to proceed. Remember, this is an information-gathering exercise, not a list of demands from your users.

You’re on your way to metadata bliss

This exercise provides a great starting place for defining your metadata! It helps you start a list of keywords, categories, and controlled vocabulary and gives you an idea of what to do next, based on your users answers. You might learn some new terms or ways others think about the assets they use. No matter what you learn, you’ll be one step closer to applying quality metadata to your assets for a better functioning DAM system. For more on metadata, download our metadata bundle.

Or listen to Palmer Hestley, Senior Brand and Marketing Officer at YMCA England and Wales, talk about the challenge and importance of applying metadata.

While core to DAM success, metadata is just one of the foundations of digital asset management. Read the article for more on governance, automatic processing, COPE, and analytics.

Topics: DAM

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