With contributions from: SADC
Singapore ASUS Design Centre regularly conducts design-thinking workshops to conceptualize innovative solutions for improving overall user experience. Leading these workshops are Design Researchers – Brianna, Sean, Zhaiwei, and I. As facilitators, we play a role in engaging designers’ to empathize with the end-users while kindling competitive, and breakthrough concepts. However, the work of running successful workshops starts long before the day of the workshop. Facilitators put in hours to identify inspiring questions and come up with engaging activities for motivating the designers to bring out their best ideas. In this post, we will share with you behind-the-scenes activities that go into running successful workshops.
Setting the problem-solving space
Design thinking workshop is a hands-on activity that generates new ideas and concepts to solve specific problems. It can take place from as short as half a day, to two days, to even a month depending on the goal, context, and resources. Guided by the notable double diamond innovation framework, our workshop planning, and activity lifecycle starts with the problem discovery stage.
Source: Elaine O’Neill
At the beginning of the process, we are given the goal of conducting a workshop by stakeholders. There are various goals that could be fulfilled through a design thinking workshop. A goal for designers and product owners is to innovate new product ideas. A goal for a newly-formed team is to foster innovation and teamwork. A goal for a team outreach program for external participants is to educate the participants in problem-solving skills. For us, our workshop often revolves around ideating novel concepts.
From the given goals, we reframe it into a challenge-worthy “How might we” question that reflects a problem that is worth solving. There are instances where the goal handed to us is too broad to be accomplished within the given timeframe. In such cases, we had to identify a problem that the end-user is facing.
Identifying problems from experts and users
There are a variety of methods for facilitators to identify end-user problems. This could range from doing secondary desk research to conducting surveys, interviewing subject matter experts to shadowing the end-users. We will share the two latter methods adopted in our workshops thus far.
Subject matter experts are individuals who have in-depth knowledge and experience about the end-users. Interviewing them enables us to understand the user’s needs from their point of view. They are the best people to talk to as they have a lot of stories to share. Furthermore, they could provide meaningful and relevant insights for the problem at hand. However, accessing subject matter experts usually comes at a cost.
Shadowing an end-user provides us an opportunity to get an insight into their lives and their ideals. We would be able to seek to answer questions such as, what things are important to them? What do they want to do? What are they trying to achieve? The outcome is a rich understanding of the end-user needs. It could be done as short as 30 minutes to a few weeks or months.
We put together the findings from the discovery phase into relevant insights. Here, we filter the information to assess the potential ideas in the context of product development and for the company. We also frame the end-user problems into design challenge statements. At this stage, we create a proposal to share with the management for approval to proceed with the workshop.
Putting everything together into an immersive and fun experience
Once we have framed the end-user problems into design challenge statements, we proceed to create the workshop agenda. Putting it together is an art by itself. We have to be conscious that the ideation process has to be activities-based and, the participants must not feel rushed. We keep in mind to provide enough time for warm-up, discussion, reflection, and sufficient breaks. It is paramount for the participants to feel engaged during the ideation and validation stages. To do so, we use role-playing and games in our activities.
Role-playing is effective and powerful for the participant to understand the user. From the insights that we gleaned through research, we provide a relevant scenario for them act as the end-user. They could quickly discover information that cannot be extracted solely by reasoning or reading. Rough prototypes, props, and other materials can be used during the role-play for a better understanding of the user’s needs. During their role-play, they could pause and reflect on their discoveries and share with their team.
We often integrate games as a precursor to the ideation activities. among participants. We make them do silly things or a competitive activity to foster a playful and exploratory attitude. It motivates participants to think about novel ideas and reduces the pressure surrounding the ideation process. It also enables participants to build connections and trust with other team members.
When we have received the approval from the management and stakeholders with the go ahead to execute the workshop, we brief the workshop participants. We introduce to them the goals and schedule of activities. We also orient them with the end-user and the challenge questions to catch their interest and feed their curiosity. A sample of our workshop schedule is shown below.
Facilitating 101: Tips for the aspiring workshop facilitator
Anyone can be a facilitator. Despite being a young team, we have coordinated multiple rounds of workshops during our tenure in ASUS with internal stakeholders and external participants, both in Singapore and Taiwan. We share the following tips for aspiring facilitators.
We encourage keen facilitators to read and learn as much as possible from readily available resources. There is a treasure trove of knowledge that can be gained from a variety of free and paid resources like books to online resources on design thinking. In addition to articles and videos, there are online courses and bootcamps. Instructor led online programs and courses provides an in-depth perspective on facilitating workshops. In contrast, bootcamps are for those who prefer an intensive, hands-on approach to learning.
Listening is an essential skill for the facilitator. As we listen to participants’ responses, we get better in reacting and reflecting. Listening to others help us to reinforce our understanding of the subject as well as bring up some points that we did not think of.
Remaining neutral is another crucial skill for a facilitator. We do not share our opinions on ideas brought up by participants immediately. This also means that we have to stay focus on the end-users as they will be using the product.
Getting feedback from more experienced facilitators is also a source for budding facilitators. Seeking out these individuals is helpful as they can tell you what went well and what did not go well. We could also adapt their techniques in our future workshops.
We have shared the pre-workshop activities for facilitators and tips for aspiring facilitators. As a team, we are compelled to provide a platform for both designers and participants. The ideas and tips that we have shared are based on our experience. At the same time, we strive to continually improve our skills and techniques. We are always looking forward to organizing enjoyable workshops for the team in the future!