How to run an effective design workshop

This article will help you plan and run a design workshop online, in-person as well as hybrid attendees.
October 25, 2022

We have all been so used to online workshops over the last couple of years and now we are making our way back to the office. There are new challenges to face with in person workshops and also hybrid.

Planning the workshop

  1. Understand the purpose 
  2. Choose your team
  3. Plan and prepare

1. Understand the purpose

Before you send any calendar invites, think about the why.  

Why do you want to run a workshop in the first place? 

What problem do you want to solve? 

Perhaps you want more people to sign up for or engage with your product. Perhaps you are looking to improve a process or solve a customer’s problem or an employee's pain. Once you decide on what the purpose is, write it down and include your purpose statement in all your communications.  

2. Choose your team

Now it’s time to recruit the team that will work with you along your design journey. Aim for a diverse group, include people that have expertise in the subject but also think about the outsider perspective. Leveraging knowledge from different disciplines like engineering, product, design, operations, finance, and leadership team members will lead to more informed decisions. If you can, involve people that attempted to solve the problem already so you can build on past learnings and save time.

3. Plan and Prepare

There’s no one-size-fits-all agenda for design thinking. You could follow the well-known Design Sprint approach, which races through each stage in five days, or spend a full day defining the problem and then brainstorming asynchronously. Given time pressures you could condense it down into a 90 minute session. How you approach each stage depends on your unique needs and resources.

Whatever you do, be conscious of people’s energy levels—especially with remote teams! Breaks are essential. A good rule of thumb is to plan five to 10-minute breaks after every hour of activity. The more intense the activity, the longer the break should be.  Additionally, remember to leave time for meals and downtime for longer workshops.

Any pre-work you do will help attendees with preparation.  Not all attendees will read this material but that is ok, the preparation will also help you think through the problem and help with running the workshop. Consider sending an email with instructions to prepare for the session with any pre-reading materials or required exercises. 

Other pre work materials you might want to prepare include;

  • User interviews and research
  • User journeys 
  • Initial problem definitions
  • Personas based on problems

4. Running the workshop

Get everyone comfortable

Try a short icebreaker before moving into ideation activities. It is important to break the silence, build comfort, and get the creativity flowing to get your team ready to be awesome.  There are some great resources including these icebreaker ideas from Miro and 

Understand the problem first

Start with the problem.  These are the problems faced by the humans in our experience.  Without defining the problem, we can’t validate a need for a product or service in the market and therefore we would be effectively building a solution in search of a problem.

Get your team up to speed by sharing everything known, then ask: what is the real problem? If you are using Miro try out the 5-Whys analysis template to get an idea of the root causes of a problem.

Be careful not to let the team go into solution mode during problem definition, any ideas can be captured as notes but do not fall into the temptation of rushing to solution without a full problem understanding.

Ideate solutions

Now that you have a good understanding of the problem it is time to get creative? Get your creative ideas flowing. There are no “wrong” ideas in the Ideate stage. There are also many different ways to brainstorm.

To come up with innovative ideas, it’s important to go beyond our comfort zones. In order to do that, we’ve got to start with an abundance of options—including some wild ideas—that we can build on and test.

There are many good resources for ideation and brainstorming including the brainstorming guide from IDEO U, and the Design Thinking — brainstorming through the ‘Ideation’ phase from Nima Torabi

Prioritise ideas for testing

The end of the ideation phase should include a process to shortlist the top solutions. One of my favourite ways to shortlist is using the Desirable Viable Feasible (DVF) methodology. This brings to the top the solutions that have the potential to be most desirable by humans, viable for the business to execute and feasible given the resources available.

Kristann Orton explains the Desirable Viable Feasible (DVF) methodology in her article Desirability, Feasibility, Viability: The Sweet Spot for Innovation.  You might want to create a spreadsheet or list of the ideas where you can use data, insights and assumptions to  

Prototype and iterate

Once you have a short list it is time to prototype. Prototypes can take many different forms including sketches, wireframes, models and journeys.  Check out these different prototyping ideas from IDEO in this article called Make Your Ideas Tangible Through Prototypes .

If you have time you can get stuck into protytling in the final part of your workshop or you can have this as a follow up activity.  

Considerations different workshop formats

Online workshop

We are all very used to working online however don’t assume that everyone will be familiar with or have access to the tools you plan to use in the workshop.  Ensure you test your technology ahead of time with a couple of attendees to ensure everything goes smoothly on the day.

If you are running an online or hybrid workshop and are using a tool like Miro you may want to send out a warm-up exercise to help people get comfortable using Miro, especially for participants who are new to the tool.

In person workshop

After working from home for so long it is important to remember how things work in person.  

  • Think about the best location to hold the workshop, 
  • Understand people's physical and emotional needs,
  • Consider commute times and life commitments,
  • Remember COVID and hygiene protocols.

Understand and plan for last minute plan changes and consider having a hybrid plan so that the workshop can still go ahead even when a key team member is not able to attend in person.

Hybrid workshop

Running a hybrid workshop does not have to be difficult or awkward if planned properly in advance.  There are a few different ways to plan a hybrid workshop however there is one key question that you must answer; how do we ensure a great experience for both in person and online team members?

Some considerations

  • Consider planning all exercises online with in person attendees bring laptops so they can still be in person but also 
  • Mix in person and online attendees if possible to ensure online attendees are included
  • If you have the space consider having smaller breakout rooms so online attendees can join the discussion without being too noisy
  • Have a mechanism for online attendees to ‘raise their hands’ and have someone in the room watching for online questions
  • Buddy online and offline attendees 

Thanks for reading this article.  If you have any questions or ideas feel free to contact us.


Let's build something good together

If you have a project in mind, we would be happy to have a chat about how we can make it happen.

Ben van Rooy

Strategy Director

Nick Brown

Marketing Director