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Power up your team with a design thinking workshop. Here’s how

PostsDesign & UX
Georgina Guthrie

Georgina Guthrie

June 08, 2022

We often think of creativity as a magical power that graces a select few. And even those who consider themselves blessed in this department may think of it as something that visits them randomly. Not great when you’re working to a deadline.

The reality is that creativity is something that we can all harness if we know how to tap into it. And one of the best ways to do that is by running a design thinking workshop.

Design thinking uses a creative, problem-solving approach to develop new and innovative ideas. And it’s not just for designers — anyone can benefit from learning these techniques.

What is a design thinking workshop?

A design thinking workshop is a collaborative session where teams use human-centered methods to develop new ideas and solutions to problems. You can do this remotely or in person.

The workshops are activity-based and center around the three phases of the design thinking process:

  • Empathy: in this phase, you put yourself in the shoes of your client or user. You try to understand their needs and pain points.
  • Ideation: in this phase, you brainstorm creative solutions to the problem.
  • Prototyping: in this phase, you create a prototype of your solution, which you’ll use to gather more information prior to the next iteration.

You can apply this structure to any challenge you’re facing. And the best part is anyone can do it. All you need is an open mind and the willingness to accept a range of ideas.

What are the goals of a design thinking workshop?

  • Generate creative ideas: the goals of a design thinking workshop depend on the specific problem you’re trying to solve. But in general, the aim is to come up with creative new ideas to turn into tangible solutions.
  • Improve team problem-solving skills: one of the main goals is to help team members solve problems more effectively. By working through the design thinking process together, they’ll learn how to generate new ideas, how to critique and build on those ideas, and how to turn them into viable solutions.
  • Develop new products or services: another common goal is to use design thinking to develop new products or services. This could involve designing a new feature for an existing product or coming up with an entirely new concept.
  • Improve customer satisfaction: you can also use design thinking to improve customer satisfaction by understanding their needs and pain points and developing solutions to address them.

Who should run a design thinking workshop (and when should you run one)?

There’s no single answer to this question. It depends on the specific problem or challenge you’re trying to solve.

If you’re developing a new product or service, for example, it might make sense to have a product designer or manager lead the workshop. If you’re trying to improve customer satisfaction, on the other hand, it might be more effective to have someone from customer service or marketing take the lead.

As for when to run a workshop, the best time is usually when you’re facing a specific challenge. This could be anything from coming up with new ideas for an existing product to developing a new marketing campaign.

If you’re unsure whether a design thinking workshop is right for you, ask yourself this question: do we need to generate new ideas or solve a specific problem?

If the answer is yes, then a design thinking workshop will likely be just what you need.

Design thinking workshop roles explained

There are three main roles: the facilitator, the scribe, and the participants. Each role is equally important and should include someone willing to take on the responsibility.

The facilitator

As the name suggests, the facilitator is responsible for leading the workshop.

This includes keeping everyone on track and making sure the workshop runs smoothly. The facilitator should be experienced in design thinking and comfortable leading a group of people through the process.

The scribe

The scribe’s role is to document ideas generated during the workshop. This includes writing down the ideas and supporting information, such as sketches or diagrams.

It’s important to have a scribe so that the ideas can be captured and shared with the rest of the team.

The participants

The participants are responsible for generating ideas. This includes brainstorming, critiquing, and developing ideas.

Choose participants based on their ability to generate creative ideas. It’s also important to have a mix of people from different departments with various perspectives and skills.

How to prepare for a design thinking workshop

Now that you know who should run a design thinking workshop and its benefits, it’s time to learn how to prepare for one. Here’s a step-by-step guide to the prep stage.

1. Define your problem

The first step is to choose a problem or challenge to focus on. This could be anything from improving customer satisfaction to developing a new product.

2. Assign responsibilities

Once you’ve chosen the problem or challenge, you need to decide who will be responsible for each role.

3. Set the scene

Gather all the materials you’ll need for the workshop, such as pens, paper, sticky notes, and whiteboards.

4. Schedule the session

Finally, you need to choose a date and time for the workshop. It’s important to pick a time when everyone can attend, and there are no distractions. If you’re working with remote employees in different time zones, choose a time that works for everyone.

And remember: solving complex design problems takes time, so factor that in when creating your schedule. As a rough guide, aim for a full day if you’re working on specific projects in small teams and two to three days for broader problems and large teams.

Design thinking workshop preparation checklist

  • Choose a problem or challenge to tackle
  • Decide who will be responsible for each role
  • Gather the materials for the workshop
  • Choose a date and time for the workshop
  • Send the invite to participants

A step-by-step guide to running a design thinking workshop with your team, along with a sample agenda

Here’s a walkthrough to help you run your first workshop session. It’s important to remember there’s no exact way to do this. If you need to skip steps or dedicate more or less time to certain stages, that’s absolutely fine.

Step 1: introduction (15 minutes)

The facilitator will start by introducing themselves, the project, and the agenda. They will then explain the roles of the facilitator, scribe, and participants and run through any housekeeping items.

Step 2: kick-off and icebreakers (20 minutes)

The facilitator begins the workshop with an icebreaker — a fun activity to help everyone get relaxed and thinking creatively. There are lots of different icebreakers you can use, so feel free to be creative. Here are some check-in questions for starters.

Step 3: introduce design thinking (10 minutes)

The facilitator should explain design thinking and how it can be used to solve problems. They will also introduce the five steps of the design thinking process: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test.

Step 4: empathy (45 minutes)

In this step, the participants put themselves in the user’s shoes and try to understand their needs. Start by talking to customers or users or reviewing the feedback you’ve already collected. Try to understand their needs and pain points. What are they struggling with? What do they wish was different?

You can also look for inspiration from other industries or businesses. How have they tackled similar challenges? Customer interviews, user personas, and journey mapping are all great ways to get under the skin of your target market.

Step 5: define (30 minutes)

In this step, the participants will take the information they’ve gathered in the empathy stage and define the problem they’re trying to solve.

Focus on identifying the user’s needs and pain points. To define the problem, start by brainstorming a list of challenges they currently face. Once you have a list, narrow it down to one specific challenge.

Step 6: ideate (60 minutes)

In this step, the participants will brainstorm solutions to the problem. Do this by generating as many ideas as possible without judgment.

To do this, you’ll need to move quickly and get everything down. There are no wrong answers at this stage, so encourage your team to be as wild as possible.

Start by generating a list of potential solutions. Then, for each solution, try to answer the following questions:

  • How does this solve the problem?
  • What are the potential risks?
  • What are the benefits?

Once you’ve brainstormed a few possible solutions, it’s time to move on to the next step.

Step 7: refine (30 minutes)

Brainstorming should generate dozens of ideas, only some of which you’ll want to take forward. So, for this next stage, you’ll need to narrow down those ideas.

Step 8: create a user journey map (30 minutes)

In this step, you’ll create a customer journey map, a visualization of a user’s steps to complete a task. It’s a great way to see how your solution will fit into their existing journey.

To create a customer journey map, start by thinking about the different steps a user would take to complete a task. Then, create a visual representation of those steps. You can use a simple line drawing or make a more complex infographic. Whichever you choose, we recommend using a template to make diagramming and sharing that little bit easier.

Step 9: prototype (60 minutes)

In this step, the participants will take their ideas and turn them into prototypes. You can use anything from paper and pens to all the usual digital design tools.

The point of a prototype is to help you visualize your idea and get feedback from users for the next round. So, don’t spend too much time perfecting it.

Step 10: test (60 minutes)

Once you’ve created a prototype, it’s time to test it with users. Getting feedback will help you validate your prototype and make sure it’s actually solving the problem.

To do this, find some people who are representative of your target market or user base. Then, walk them through your prototype and get their feedback.

What do they think of the solution? Is it easy to use? Does it actually solve the problem? Take notes.

Step 11: iterate

Once you’ve tested your prototype, it’s time to take the feedback you’ve received and make improvements to your idea. Afterward, it’s time to test again. Rinse and repeat until you have a solution that satisfies your users.

Step 12: define the next steps, and close the meeting

To close the meeting, take a few minutes to define the next steps. Who is going to do what, and by when? Then, thank everyone for their participation and ideas. Congratulate them on a job well done!

Sample one-day design thinking workshop agenda

9:00 – Welcome & introductions
9:15 – Warm-up exercise
9:30 – Understanding the problem
10:30 – Brainstorming solutions
11:30 – Break
11:45 – Creating prototypes
12:45 – Lunch
1:30 – Testing prototypes
2:30 – Iterating on the solution
3:30 – Wrap-up & feedback

Design thinking workshops: best practice

Now that you know how to run a design thinking workshop, here are a few best practice tips to keep in mind.

1. Encourage creativity

The whole point of a design thinking workshop is to encourage creativity. So, make sure you create an environment that’s conducive to out-of-the-box thinking.

Give team members encouragement and support to think freely, without judgment or criticism. You also need to provide them with the resources they need to be creative, such as paper, pens, and sticky notes.

2. Build trust

Design thinking workshops require team members to share their ideas openly and honestly. This can be difficult if there isn’t a lot of trust within the team.

To build trust, start by creating ground rules for the workshop. Encourage open and honest communication, and use icebreaker exercises to help team members get to know each other better.

3. Be prepared

Design thinking workshops require a lot of preparation. Before you run the session, make sure you have a clear understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve. Otherwise, you’ll waste time working on a problem that may have other barriers to completion.

4. Set a time limit

Setting a time limit will keep team members focused and prevent them from getting bogged down in the details. A good rule of thumb is to set a time limit of no longer than 60 minutes for each stage of the design thinking process.

5. Keep it fun

Design thinking workshops can be intense. To make sure team members don’t burn out, try to keep things fun and engaging.

Use games and activities to help team members brainstorm ideas. Use polls and quizzes to collect feedback. You can also use props and toys to help bring your prototypes to life. And don’t forget regular breaks and snacks!

6. Use video conferencing

Running a remote design thinking workshop? Video conferencing is a great way to keep team members engaged and involved. Use a platform that allows you to share your screen, which can be useful for presenting research or showing prototypes.

7. Use collaboration tools

From virtual whiteboards to videoconferencing software, there are plenty of online collaboration tools that can help remote and hybrid teams work together efficiently. Make the most of the array of options available to you.

Cacoo, our own diagramming tool, is a great option for sketching, adding comments, and prototyping in real time with a remote team. It also has a huge library of templates so that you can create beautiful visuals in minutes.

8. Follow up afterward

Once the workshop is over, don’t forget to follow up with team members. Checking in allows them to provide feedback on the process and solutions and ask for clarification if needed.

And that’s everything you need to run a successful design thinking workshop.



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