Design thinking workshops are becoming increasingly popular in corporate environments because they force businesses to humanize their approach to solving design-related problems. By leading a design thinking workshop, brands are better able to empathize with user experience and can focus on making innovation part of a human-centered design process. 

What Are Design Thinking Workshops?

Design-centric thinking is leading the way for ground-breaking brands, while those that do not embrace design thinking struggle to find innovative solutions. Too often, brands take an analytic approach to solving their internal or external issues. With a design-centric focus, brands encourage their team members to collaborate with each other to find innovative ideas and unique solutions. 

Despite its moniker, design thinking workshops are for far more than just design teams, as the design thinking process can be employed to overcome business challenges and develop design-based solutions in all departments. Most commonly, though, design thinking principles will be used in workshops for designers as they seek out potential solutions for design projects.

By putting design first in their approach to problem-solving, brands are able to center empathy and put the needs of real users first. If your business isn’t already on board with design thinking, leading a design thinking workshop can serve as a first step, giving your team the opportunity to learn to foster a user-centric mindset and think with design in mind. 

Goals of Your Design Thinking Workshop

The main goal of a design thinking workshop is for teams to create user-focused solutions for design-related problems. As you consider leading your own design thinking workshop, identify a series of goals and keep those central to your planning process.

Consider workshop goals such as:

  • Producing groundbreaking ideas
  • Cultivating a community in your workplace through collaboration
  • Strengthening problem-solving skills
  • Generating innovative ideas
  • Empowering creative thinking
  • Engaging your team

How to Become a Design Thinking Expert

Leading a design thinking workshop takes an expert in design thinking methodology. By taking the time to study and understand design thinking methodology, you can guide your team to creative solutions and make them into design thinkers in their own right. 

Want to make sure your design thinking workshop is led by an experienced facilitator? Work with the experts at Voltage Control. Our team of professional design thinking facilitators will give your team the tools you need to hold design thinking workshops of your own, or they’ll run them for you.

When learning how to facilitate a design thinking workshop, facilitators should understand these six steps to design thinking:

  1. Observing and engaging in behavior: Begin by studying your users’ behavior to understand their needs 
  2. Ideation: Next, brainstorm on how to meet user needs via divergent thinking
  3. Prototype: Rapid prototyping focuses on testing ideas with real people in real-time to get instantaneous feedback
  4. Feedback: With your prototype in the hands of the end-user, assess how and why the product meets or fails to meet their needs.
  5. Integration: Implement the feedback to improve the design
  6. Application: With your newly improved design, it’s time to move forward with the improved product

4 Secrets to Leading a Successful Design Thinking Workshop

If you’re heading up a design thinking workshop for the first time, it can be overwhelming to navigate all the available resources and design thinking tools while keeping the principles of design thinking top of mind. As a facilitator, your job starts with curating and collecting a series of activities to help stimulate the creativity and problem-solving superpowers of your workshop participants.

Pro Tip: We specifically created the Workshop Design Canvas Control Room App to help anyone planning any kind of workshop ease into the art of preparing to facilitate design thinking meetings. This canvas includes learning science, cognition, and facilitation best practice guardrails to help you ensure your design with objectives and participant needs in mind. 

With the right resources to practice leading a design thinking workshop and ample prep time, you can properly prepare your facilitator toolkit.

As you get ready to lead a design thinking workshop, be sure to prepare by:

1. Identifying workshop objectives 

Your objectives are the clear goals you hope to achieve in your design thinking workshop. Whether you’re trying to troubleshoot your existing design or come up with something entirely new, outlining your aims in the objective is the first step. Center your understanding of your target users and their user experience.

2. Choosing a location 

Your design thinking workshop can take place anywhere, whether it’s held virtually or in a physical location like a conference room. If you’re meeting in person, be sure there is enough physical space for the whole team as well as any equipment you may need.

Since this is a workshop for designers, also consider their needs and preferences when it comes to designing together.

3. Creating a workshop agenda

Your agenda should include all the workshop activities that you plan to use. Be sure to leave adequate time in between each activity for your team to engage with each other without burnout from an activity-heavy schedule, as well as clear opportunities for discussion and questions. The design team should be given plenty of time to work through each stage of the design project, as well as break time to regroup and rebuild energy levels.

4. Gathering workshop materials

If you plan to meet physically, gather all the necessary materials for your design thinking workshop, like whiteboards, paper, pens, and anything else you’ll need to complete the activities. 

Design Thinking Facilitator Frameworks

Leading a design thinking workshop begins with using the right facilitator framework. The correct framework will make it easier for you to visually present your ideas to your team as you keep them engaged with easy-to-follow presentations, visually stimulating graphics, and well-executed design that will encourage your team to produce their best work. 

Templates can be utilized to save time and outline design processes like journey mapping and user testing. For example, using MURAL templates for your facilitation framework will help your team remain productive and engaged throughout the collaborative process.


How to Facilitate a Design Thinking Workshop in 4 Steps

As the facilitator, you will be leading the charge into the design thinking workshop. With all your prep in place, it’s time to lead a masterful session that will set the tone of the workshop, encourage creative problem-solving, and ultimately reach your goals for the product. 

Begin your workshop with the right questions to spark thoughtful dialogue. The art of facilitation lies in having the right facilitator questions in your arsenal that will keep your team focused, energized, and ready to brainstorm. The right questions can get your team excited to be active participants who are more likely to contribute creative ideas.

Pro Tip: Asking questions like, “How are we feeling?” and “Why are we here today?” sets a conversational tone and helps to loosen your team up before the work begins. With the creative juices flowing, your team will be ready to collaborate.

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Step One: Diving Into Design Thinking

While your design team is likely already familiar with the concept of design thinking, some may need a refresher course on the subject, especially if you’re working with a cross-functional team. At the start of the workshop, give a brief discussion about what design thinking is, its various phases, and its benefits. With a crash course in the concept of design thinking, everyone on your team will be on the right page. 

Step Two: Empathize With the Audience

As you lead your team headfirst into design thinking, prioritize the empathize stage of the process. This is the best way to humanize the design process and helps your team focus on what the user needs and how to best achieve that. This step is where design thinking tools and activities come into play. 

If you haven’t already developed user personas, this may be a great opportunity to do so. Rich user personas represent the traits and behavioral patterns of the users of your product.

With popular activities like empathy maps and roleplaying, you can help your team identify with the language, feelings, wants, and needs of the audience. Following each activity, be sure to allow your team to ask questions, connect their work with previous stages, and share their findings. 

Step Three: Zeroing In on the Problem and Identifying Solutions

In this step, it’s time to tighten the focus on the problems in user experience. Participants can create problem statements to help guide them through the rest of the workshop. As your team brainstorms possible solutions, lead them through design thinking activities to help them stoke the fire of creativity and arrive at the most innovative solutions. 

Throughout the discussion, push your team towards collaborating for a single refined solution. Ultimately, they should be able to talk about the journey each user will take to solve the same problem on their own. 

Step Four: Closing the Design Thinking Workshop

After a successful workshop following the design thinking methodology, be sure to thoughtfully close the session by describing the next steps and asking follow-up questions. See how the design team feels about the workshop as well as what they learned, and clearly outline any necessary next steps.

Design thinking workshops are powerful and transformative when facilitated well. With a facilitator well-versed in design thinking, the correct facilitation frameworks, engaging activities, and a team filled with passionate collaborators, you’ll be well on your way to leading a successful design thinking workshop at your company. 

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