Video Series: How to Run Successful Design Thinking Workshops


January 19, 2022



In this new video series from Levvel, our industry experts discuss how to best run design thinking workshops. Over the coming weeks, new episodes will be released on the purpose, timing, and length of a workshop, who should attend one, what problems workshops help solve, and more.


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Episode 1: Purpose, Timing, and Length of a Workshop

Episode 1 Transcription

Amy Henty: The length of a workshop is typically around one to three days, depending on the objectives and size of a team. And there are breaks in a workshop. It’s never a full eight-hour day.

Kat Perez: You can hold a design thinking workshop whenever you have a problem you need to create or ideate on achievable user-focused solutions to a problem. Depending on where your project stands in the design thinking process, you can use the workshop to produce anything from early strategic requirements to detailed wireframes. My recommendation is the earlier, the better.

I wouldn’t say there’s a bad time to have a workshop for these types of things. Still, I would say that the earlier, the better because you’ll be able to lay down the foundation for what you’re trying to achieve. You’ll be able to ideate and solution and innovate earlier on rather than going through an entire process without it and then trying to understand what went wrong at the end. So it helps you get that leg up, and it benefits you in that way.

There are a lot of benefits to holding a design thinking workshop for both your product or service and your team. First, you gain team alignment, which is huge. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve facilitated workshops for companies where each team function had a different idea of what they were trying to achieve. And the workshop helped them realize that. So alignment is a must for the success of a project.

Design thinking workshops also allow the team to develop a culture of innovation and foster collaboration, breaking silos within the team. And a team that can be more innovative and collaborative gives you a competitive edge. All these types of workshops in nature reduce risk by using a collaborative and iterative approach.

Episode 2: Who Should Host and Attend a Design Thinking Workshop?

Episode 2 Transcription

Amy Henty: So who attends a workshop? Well, we need to pick the right people. We need a decider, and that’s the person who has the authority to make a final call. We also need two to three builders, and these are the people who execute the solution. Think engineers, designers, marketers.

We also need one to two subject matter experts (SMEs). These are folks who know your customers best. Think customer support, sales, user researchers, or those in analytics.

Lastly, you’ll need a facilitator, which Levvel provides. The facilitator makes sure everything stays on track, and that notes are captured.

Now, who do we recommend have a workshop? We recommend teams:

  • With multiple people executing on a project to make sure everyone is aligned on the goals
  • With different perspectives and different subject matter experts
  • That are stuck in a rut and need more ideas
  • That need alignment on decisions
  • With an idea but don’t know how to execute their idea

We recently worked with a client that was a subject matter expert in leasing software, but they were not accustomed to making an actual product. We aligned their team of multiple people and decisions and used their expertise in that space.

So who runs a workshop? That will be a Levveler with previous workshop experience who can get everyone to participate, keep the energy level up, keep the activities on time, and command the room.

Episode 3: Rules, Goals, and Outcomes

Episode 3 Transcription

Amy Henty: So what are the rules of a workshop? I’d say they’re everyone participates, have one conversation at a time, withhold judgment of others’ ideas, and get up and draw. Everyone is capable of drawing, even if it’s just a rectangle. So get up and draw when in-person, and then when remote, you can draw on our virtual whiteboards.

Be comfortable, be easy on people, but tough on ideas. We want to make sure we hear everyone’s thoughts. We don’t want to hear the loudest person in the room or the person with the highest title.

Be timely, be present, turn your camera on, limit other computer and phone use, and no jargon or acronyms. Sometimes acronyms can be used, but we need to define them to ensure everyone understands what they are because every company has its acronyms, and everybody is slightly new to the team.

Adam Bridgewater: What are the goals of a workshop? A design thinking workshop aims to utilize the different methodologies that we have as designers from our toolkit to help solve complex problems and find solutions for our clients. We want to understand their users through questioning the problem to identify the different perspectives that their users have and gain knowledge from them.

These different steps of creative and collaborative exercises that we go through and the groups that we are engaging within the workshop align on testable solutions, which can be applied to all phases of designing a product.

Design thinking is very iterative, and it’s an agile process to design and build with a human-centered approach by empathizing, ideating, and then prototyping and then testing these concepts that we come up with and seeing if these ideas dramatically improve the outcome of the product or not.

By identifying the success metrics, the plans for execution, and the minimum viable product, we can converge on these different ideal states of what the product could be to reach launch. It’ll essentially minimize certain risks like the amount of capital that needs to be invested in the product because we know where we’re heading before going into code. And it still allows us to provide a product that will succeed when it hits the open market.

These workshops help us spot opportunities for adding human value that will influence the minds of our client’s audience and help shape their future behavior. The workshop’s goal is to foster empathy and genuine discussion of the ideas we’re collaborating on in a human-centric way. Everyone wants to create products that make an impact. So this leads to specific challenges of finding the right balance between autonomy and alignment with the involved teams.

Autonomy is essential when you need team members to make decisions and move things forward at a swift pace, like an MVP. On the other hand, alignment is even more critical because it ensures all the teams are moving towards the company’s goals. Align teams to drive business success.

And the conversations that we have during the workshops are at the heart of this alignment. We aim to avoid validating our assumptions, which is critical by genuinely understanding the end user’s behavior. So, in essence, design thinking is a very human-focused, prototype-driven process for innovation, which winds up reducing risk by using a very collaborative and iterative approach.

Amy Henty: So what are some activities that take place during a workshop? There are different types of mechanisms to pull out ideas. We use icebreakers to get to know people on the team, typing ideas on virtual sticky notes individually and in small groups. And this is important to get original ideas and not just group thinking.

Some other activities are dot voting for prioritizing ideas, drawing user flows and wireframes, discussing and converging as a group on various topics, breaks in between activities, and a retrospective.

So what prep is required from the client-side? We need to be provided with team members. So that’d be one decider, two to three builders, and one to two SME’s. Also, it’s important to provide any research before a workshop; any personas, onsite visits, anytime you talk to your customers, and identify a space we can meet in person.

Kat Perez: What are some success stories we’ve been a apart of? So one of my favorite workshops I’ve ever facilitated was with a dental equipment manufacturer. They had approached Levvel and had three separate digital experiences for their customers to engage with. And this led to an overall disjointed user experience, and they wanted to empower their end customers and create a deeper brand relationship with them.

So in this workshop, the team defined project goals, target audience, strategy, mapped out all of the user flows, success metrics, key dates and milestones, and just gained overall alignment with everyone involved in the project.

And actually, one of my favorite quotes from a client came after this very workshop. I happened to be the one facilitating. I had a main stakeholder from the client-side who’d been very skeptical about the workshop process and everything that came with it.

He came up to me and said, when I went into this workshop, I knew I had everything figured out and a solid plan. But what we came up with within this workshop is 100 times better. And so that was awesome to hear, and I think it shows the power of what a workshop can help a team ideate and innovate together.

What are the outcomes of a workshop? Design thinking workshops can produce all sorts of output or results depending on the problem you’re trying to solve. So it could all be different. It depends on the type of workshop and problem you’re trying to solve.

For example, when we facilitate design thinking workshops during the discovery process, we may leave that workshop with defined goals and success metrics to your user needs, user flows, user types and roles, a full feature list for MVP, dependencies, and gaps in development research. And that’s to name a few for the discovery process, but it depends on the type of workshop that you’re facilitating or holding with your team and the problem that you’re trying to solve.

Authored By

Kat Perez, Design Capability Lead

Kat Perez

Design Capability Lead

Amy Henty, Design Manager

Amy Henty

Design Manager

Adam Bridgewater, Senior Product Design Consultant, Levvel

Adam Bridgewater

Senior Product Design Consultant

Meet our Experts

Kat Perez, Design Capability Lead

Kat Perez

Design Capability Lead

Kat Perez is the Design Capability Lead at Levvel. She firmly believes in and advocates for the importance of human-centered design. Kat is a multidisciplinary product designer with eight years of experience in designing user experiences for multi-platform web applications. She has a strong background in User Experience Design, Interaction Design, Visual Design, and Front-end Development, with a proven ability to lead and mentor design teams. Kat has worked in a variety of industries that include Commercial Real Estate, Publishing & Digital Media, eCommerce, Marketing, and the Salesforce Ecosystem, which enables her unique and holistic approach to solving business problems with design. Kat holds a BFA in Graphic Design & Fashion Design from the Moore College of Art & Design.

Amy Henty, Design Manager

Amy Henty

Design Manager

Amy Henty is a Design Manager who analyzes, creates, and communicates compelling digital experiences with over ten years of experience working in multiple verticals. Amy has demonstrated an excellent capability in the areas of user-experience, product design, and user research. She has spent a considerable amount of time working for large fortune-500 and medium-size organizations in this specialization area, allowing her to guide her clients to design and implement industry-leading approaches to the area based on understanding users’ and business needs. Outside of work, she enjoys everything outdoors with her husband and two kids.

Adam Bridgewater, Senior Product Design Consultant, Levvel

Adam Bridgewater

Senior Product Design Consultant

Adam Bridgewater is a Senior Product Design Consultant at Levvel with close to a decade of experience. He has a deep understanding of usability principles and best practices applied to interaction and visual design, as well as a comprehensive mastery of Behavioural Design. Adam knows when to apply factors to influence users to perform a desired behavior. He possesses experience with concepting sessions and workshops, UI patterns, and design systems, always highlighting the importance of the design process with stakeholders. He has leveraged these tools throughout his career to help clients build products that will succeed in the market in the most scientific, user-centered way, using quantitative and qualitative data to guide decisions.

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