How To Run A Design Thinking Workshop Part 2

In the first part of this blog post series, How To Run A Design Thinking Workshop Part 1,  I discussed what design thinking is, where to start, and the Design Thinking process. In this blog post I’m going to cover the different types of Design Thinking workshops, when to use them, and the elements that go into making a great Design Thinking experience.

Different Types Of Design Thinking Workshops

The first type of workshop is called a Design Thinking meeting and typically lasts one to four hours. This is a very short and sharp activity to help the team understand the problem, come up with some ideas, and perhaps some solutions. The next type of activity is the Design Thinking Workshop. This typically last from one to three days and allows the teams to go into a lot more detail across all areas. The final type of activity is the Design Thinking project. This is a longer term, sustained process where the Design Thinking teams repeat the process over and over, iterating through the product life cycle until they have a product that is human-centered, feasible, and economically viable.

When To Use Design Thinking Workshops

Within the different types of Design Thinking workshops mentioned above, you can each type for a different reason. If you’re a Design Thinking coach and have a client who is curious about the Design Thinking process but knows little else about it, a methodology workshop would be most appropriate. Here, as the name suggests, a coach would take a client through the Design Thinking methodology and demonstrate how it would be beneficial within their organization.

The problem workshop is for organizations that have an existing problem they’d like to solve and want to try Design Thinking as an approach to solving the problem. Here, the focus is coming up with new and innovative ways to solve the problem which the organizations is not capable of doing with their existing processes, procedures, or structure. While the organization is running through the Design Thinking workshop they will primarily be focusing on the solution but also get an understanding of the Design Thinking process and how it might fit into their organization.

An innovation workshop is for an organization that may or may not have experience with Design Thinking. Typically, the need for this type of workshop is driven by upper management in an industry that is somewhat stagnant and ripe for disruption. Here, the management team see the need for innovation within their organization but might not know exactly what the problem is or what the solutions might look like.

Elements Of A Great Design Thinking Workshop

The Challenge

Every Design Thinking workshop starts with a design thinking challenge. This is at the heart of a great Design Thinking experience. A well structured challenge will yield excellent outcomes. A challenge that has been slapped together at the last minute will typically yield underwhelming results. Depending on the type of workshop that is run will depend on who creates the design thinking challenge; either the coach, the organization, or a collaborative effort between the two. The design challenge must also be suitable for the participants and for the Design Thinking process as a whole. Some challenges are best suited for more traditional methods of problem solving, design, and commercialization.

A good design challenge has a specific structure. Firstly, it allows for an open outcome. More specifically, it doesn’t dictate what the solution should look like. Secondly, it should be human-centered. This is fundamental to Design Thinking principles. The challenge should be focused on the pains, gains, and jobs to be done for a customer segment. This leads perfectly into the final element of a great design challenge .  To keep the Design Thinking workshop focused on achieving a tangible outcomes, it should only address one specific customer segment. Here, an organization may have a multitude of different customer segments and/or users. It’s likely that each customer segment or user group will have different pains, gains, jobs to get done, and value propositions therefore the outcome from the Design Thinking workshop will not be applicable to everyone. Below is a useful template and example for creating a design thinking challenge:

How might we [outcome to be achieved/problem to be solved] for [customer segment].

How might we improve the checkout experience on our e-commerce store for our mobile shoppers.

The Coach

A coach is responsible for running a Design Thinking workshop. There are two types of coaches, a lead coach and a team coach. The lead coach, as the name suggest, is in charge of the whole workshop. This includes its creation, it’s methodology, the script, material used, and overall operation of the Design Thinking workshop. The team coach is responsible for guiding the team through the Design Thinking workshop and helping them apply the theory. The team coach is also responsible for making sure their team meets their objectives within the given time frames. Depending on the team’s performance, the team coach can take a more guiding approach or get much more involved.

The Team

The team within a Design Thinking workshop should consist of different types of people. The team should be made up of people from different occupations, different countries, different ages, different cultures, etc. This diversity is at the heart of creating novel and innovative ideas. By contrast, if you had a team that consisted of the same type of people i.e. developers, then the solution would most likely be technical and software based.

The Post-Its

Post-it notes are a critical tool for communication within a Design Thinking workshop. The can be used in three different ways. They can be used to write on, to draw on, and to organize via colour. Post-its are ideal as a medium of communication as they are small enough to convey just the right amount of information quickly throughout team and for anyone to understand what the team is working on. When information is written on post-its, it should not be too short i.e. one or two words, nor should they be too long i.e. a sentence or two. Post-its are also an easy way to capture disparate information and organise into common themes. Simple pictures are a great way to convey a lot of information very quickly. In a wall of post-its with writing everywhere, pictures tend to stand out and a great way to get a main theme across. Using colours to group information is another simple way to use post-its. Here, colour can be used to represent different phases a team goes through.

The Timer

The timer is the tool that Design Thinking coaches use to guide the workshops to great effect. It keeps everyone on the same page. It keeps them focused on the task at hand. It also helps the teams move from one phase to the next quickly and easily therefore prevents the teams getting bogged down in unnecessary work or discussions. The timer should be displayed on a large screen so the whole Design Thinking workshop can see it. The teams should also be told how long they have for each section within the Design Thinking workshop. This time-boxed event is similar to the time-boxing of events within Scrum. For more information about how Scrum teams use time-boxing to keep teams on track see this blog “What Are Scrum Artifacts And How To Use Them”.

The Team Space

For a team to work together and come up with ideas, it needs its own place to work from. The team space is that place. Each team is typically made up of between 4 – 8 people. Each phase of the Design Thinking workshop requires a different type of space. Sometimes the team all need to work together on one topic. Other times the team splits up to work on individual tasks. Sometimes the team needs more space or need to collect all the information on a whiteboard or wall. For the team to be able to work in all of these different types of ways, the team space needs to be modular. The tables, chairs, and perhaps walls if possible, all need to be movable and rearrangeable. An ideal team space would include the following:

  • 6 * whiteboard markers
  • 6 * medium-sized felt pens
  • 6 * different coloured post-it note pads
  • 1 * timer
  • A4 paper
  • Stationary including scissors, glue, masking tape, blu-tack, etc

The Shared Space

The shared space is a location where the beginning of every day starts and ends. It’s where instructions are provided for the day’s events and where teams come together to share their collective experience. If there is additional information, tools, techniques, etc that the Design Thinking coach needs to convey to all the teams, the coach can bring all the teams together and conduct what is necessary within the shared space. For the coach to be able to convey information its best if the shared space as the technical capabilities to facilitate this. The space could include a screen, projector, laptop, clicker, and seating. In addition, this is where the timer is kept and made visible to all the teams.

The Prototyping Area

The prototyping area is where the teams turn their ideas into reality for potential customers to test. It’s also a place where the prototypes can be displayed for additional feedback. In order for a team to turn an idea into a prototype they need equipment. The equipment typically comes in the form of pens, paper, glue, scissors, lego, play doh, UX/UI templates,  post-it notes, style guides, and prototyping tools. 

The Rules

To run a successful Design Thinking workshop, there are nine rules that everyone should adhere to.

  1. Defer judgement – There are two clear stages within a Design Thinking workshop. The first is idea creation and the second is idea evaluation. In the first stage, teams want to generate as many ideas as possible from the typical to the completely outrageous. It’s on in the second phase, that the teams turns their analytical mind to the ideas and determines which ones they should focus on.
  2. Quantity – As mentioned above, in phase one of the Design Thinking workshop, teams are tasked with generating as many ideas as possible. The more the better. It doesn’t matter if they are far fetched or not so long as there are a lot of them.
  3. Build on the ideas of others – The reason Design Thinking teams work is because there are teams made up of people from diverse backgrounds all contributing to the same outcome. It’s the mashing together of these different people, experiences, and ideas – building on one another – that leads to novel ideas and innovation.
  4. Be visual – Sketches are a great way for the team to understand an idea quickly and easily. They are also a great way to map out a product, feature, process, or concept so it can be displayed in a prominent location to keep a team focused on the same outcome.
  5. Encourage wild ideas – In Design Thinking, there is no such thing as a crazy idea. All ideas are welcome. All too often people don’t realise that what they think are crazy ideas may well be human-centered, feasible, and economically viable.
  6. Stay focused – The timer is a great way to keep everyone moving forward but within the team there needs to be cohesion and a shared vision of what needs to be achieved within the phase of the Design Thinking workshop they are in. Due to the time constraints of the workshop, teams should aim to work collaboratively and avoid arguments or focusing too much on insignificant details.
  7. Think user-centered – One of the core elements of creating anything using Design Thinking is that it must be user-centered. If the solution doesn’t meet the needs of a specific customer segment, then it’s difficult for that solution to be feasible or economically viable.
  8. Have fun! – Design Thinking is about curiosity, creativity, and exploration. It’s a safe space for people to express and contribute.
  9. One conversation at a time – Things can get pretty crazy in a Design Thinking workshop. A good way to keep everyone up to date and on the same page is to limit the communication to one conversation at a time.

The Debriefing

At the end of every Design Thinking workshop everyone comes together and sits in a circle to share their experiences, insights, lessons learned, etc. This phased of the Design Thinking workshop should not take too long. A great way to limit the time for this phased is to have each participant use the phrase “I like, I wish.” It’s a good idea if the lead coach starts off with this so everyone else has an idea of how the process works and the length or time they should speak.


In this two part blog post, I covered what design thinking is, where to start, the Design Thinking process, the different types of Design Thinking workshops, when to use them, and the elements that go into making a great Design Thinking experience. With this information, you should be able to successfully navigate your way through a successful Design Thinking workshop and come up with some excellent new ideas that solve real human needs.

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