Blog header image: The Metadata Brainstorm Exercise article.
Digital Asset Management

The Metadata Brainstorm Exercise

April 4, 2022 6 minute read
An exercise to help you get unbiased feedback on how people search for real assets you’ll have in your digital asset management (DAM) system.
Blog header image: The Metadata Brainstorm Exercise article.

Identifying the metadata fields you’ll use to organize the content in your digital asset management (DAM) system is an important part of the DAM setup process and ongoing maintenance. But we know that getting started can be a bit daunting.

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. Just enlist your users to help. All you need are some Post-it Notes, printouts of assets, and cookies for this metadata brainstorm exercise.

Getting started and goals

So how will you get metadata out of Post-it Notes and cookies? Well, the Post-it Notes and other materials are for an interactive metadata exercise. You’ll have printouts of actual assets and will ask your group of volunteers to describe them. And the cookies? Well, to be honest, they’re a bit of a bribe. But rewards for hard work are always welcome, right?

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

As with any project, it’s helpful to understand and document your goals so you can work towards milestones and deliverables. Because creating a metadata schema can be a nuanced endeavor, it’s unlikely you’ll complete everything in one session — so setting goals for each session, or round, might be the best approach. 

Here are some goals or outcomes to consider for your metadata exercise. 

  • A great sampling of the terms users will use to search for assets (either all assets or just a subset)
  • An understanding of how users want to be able to search within and navigate the DAM system
  • Thoughts on how groups and users in different areas of the company will need to use the system
  • 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 steps and materials

Materials needed:

  • 10-15 participants
  • 1-1.5 hours
  • 20-40 printed pictures of assets from your DAM system
  • Giant Post-it Sheets (or just large pieces of paper)
  • Small Post-it Notes
  • Pens and markers
  • Tape
  • Cookies or other treats (optional, but a tasty way to boost participation)
  • Or, if conducting this virtually, consider using Google Jamboard or something similar


Select 20-40 assets that represent common files in your asset library. Print the assets out — one on each sheet of paper. Group like assets and tape them to the giant Post-it Sheets. List the following questions on the giant Post-it Sheets:

  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 search terms would you use to find each of these assets?

Hang the giant Post-it Sheets 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 Sheet.

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-it Sheets.

Metadata brainstorm tips

Clarity will be your best friend during this exercise. Understanding the motivation behind participants’ answers will help you determine the best direction for your metadata. You might need to ask follow-up questions during and/or after the session to arrive at a metadata structure that works across teams and departments.

Here are some tips to keep in mind for your exercise.

  • Keep your groups small. You can run multiple sessions but limit your group size to 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-it Sheets.
  • If possible, enlist a note taker to help capture 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 to the other metadata in your site.
  • Be clear with yourself on what you need to answer with this exercise (e.g., developing categories, quick search terms, faceted search options, etc.). This will help determine the right follow-up questions to ask your participants. 

Once you’ve finished, take time to reflect on the exercise itself and your results. After you’ve gone through this process, 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 jumping-off point for defining your metadata! It helps you start a list of fields, keywords, categories, and controlled vocabulary terms — and gives you an idea of what to do next, based on your users' answers. It can be used when you’re first setting up your site or if you’re looking to optimize your system, too. 

The feedback you receive could surprise you. Maybe you’ll discover new terms, or learn how others think about the assets they use. Or perhaps this exercise will identify a content gap altogether. No matter what you learn, you’ll be one step closer to applying quality metadata to your assets for a better functioning DAM system. 

Organized content is a primary DAM objective for most companies. If you’re searching for a tool that uses metadata to keep your content organized, explore a free trial of our DAM system, Acquia DAM (Widen). You can also request, watch, or click through a demo today.


Note: This article was originally published on


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