I thought I had nailed design thinking workshops down, despite facilitating them dozens of times. It turns out that I have much to learn.
After facilitating a half day workshop for a big company, I decided to share some of the underrated things that I think could really improve a workshop experience.
A lot of thanks to friends Kat Rosario and Mark Lacsamana for helping me realize this.
1. A compelling icebreaker
It's hard to control workshop attendees who don't care or don't know each other. Introducing an icebreaker will put them in the right mindset and hopefully create moments for introductions.
I'm a big fan of How To Make Toast and its ability to unleash a room's creativity. By the end of the exercise, people start drawing diagrams, flows, and sketch out some truly remarkable designs, even if they say they don't know how to draw.
Plus, it sets the tone for the rest of the workshop.
Pre-work is done for context. Any initial activity done individually to set the stage is helpful.
Good pre-work has qualitative research baked in. Visit or interview your users, get to know their pains, and make sure that everyone starts with that baseline knowledge.
If not everyone is familiar with design thinking, sending a video of it might help too. This one by IDEO is perfect, and it's just 8 minutes.
3. Participant guides
Let's say you want attendees to make an empathy map. Do a completely filled out one that illustrates it, dump it on an A4, and print it. Do it for the rest of the exercises.
Your attendees will thank you, and you won't have to repeat things over and over. You can also include more definitions, instructions, and details.
Prepare a playlist beforehand so you can fill the dead air when people are ideating individually.
People are going to get grumpy when you slap them on the face with a hundred different activities.
So people have something to look forward to, especially if you have sessions in the morning that approach lunch.
You can use that as a motivating factor for them to take your activities seriously. Yay!
The workshop venue, schedule, participants invited, materials, are really important. You can't run out of stickies, sticky dots, or paper on the day itself.
Include the agenda and the workshop exercises on your participant guide so everybody knows what to expect.
9. Facilitator guides
If you're not the only one facilitating, and the other facilitators aren't designers, it's best if you prepare a separate guide for them as well.
Brief them with the activities before the day of the workshop. Then print out the activities so they can refer to it while facilitating their assigned group.