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Design Thinking Workshop - Project Team

While I was still settling in the new company and understanding how the team functions here. I was handed my first assignment of redesigning the entire sales and commercial application. Yet the challenge of making the process more efficient and effective by designing a stable model was too good to pass up. But the kick-off meeting set off the warning bells in my head. All the discussion was centered around what the team felt the application should be doing and showing. RED ALERT!

The Challenge

So now, why was I worried? Some of today’s most successful companies— Amazon, and Apple have succeeded in doing so by designing products and services that address key customer needs. What they essentially did was apply Design Thinking. In its most elemental meaning, Design Thinking involves problem-solving by uncovering user needs. From that understanding companies pave the way for innovation and growth.

“Designing is more than creating products and services; it can be applied to systems, procedures, protocols, and customer experiences,”

- Linda Naiman, European Business Review

While my company is emergent in its UX Maturity, most teams are still looking for proof that UX is worth the investment and effort. Hence, instead of attending a passive three-hour presentation, I decided to immerse them in hands-on learning by partaking in activities. So I set up a workshop!

This workshop was going to enable me to spread Design Thinking value across my team and get my foot in the door to future discussions. The other benefits included​

  • Enable my team to problem-solve: The ability to identify problems and find effective solutions is essential to every role at every level. And this workshop was going to help inspire my team to adopt a design-thinking mentality and engage that in their day-to-day responsibilities.

  • Foster innovation through teamwork: When the problem is critical, it takes a village to come together and solve it. And Design Thinking depends heavily on collaboration because it allows a diverse group of people from different departments coming together to view solutions and possibilities from multiple perspectives —a recipe for innovation!

  • Evangelize Design Thinking: While Design Thinking gives phenomenal results, my team felt Design Thinking was typically used in product design or for the creatively inclined. I wanted to bust that myth by letting them explore and making them see how informed decisions set everything up for success.

Workshop Planning and Preparation

For the purpose of this workshop, I stuck to using IDEO’s Mindsets as my basis and modifying around them to serve my purpose. Mindsets are general attitudes and the way people typically think about things. While methodologies and processes are important, I selected mindsets and behaviors because it gives participants a glimpse into Design Thinking and shows how it provides better solutions.

I planned activities around each mindset or behavior, which allowed the team to actively engage and understand how they worked. To facilitate this workshop, I decided to use Mural boards as a collaboration tool as most of my team was remote.


Image courtesy of MURAL

Executing the workshop

1. Get Visual (30 minutes)

While it is important to ideate and come up with creative and innovative ideas, it is equally important to externalize these ideas as well. And how would we do we get them out of our heads? It's simple, use anything at our disposal, from paper to digital tools and start drawing. No, we don’t have to be Picasso to get drawing. Just visual enough to convey an idea, share it, and understand how to make it better.​

  • Presentation (20 minutes): A brief introduction on why being visual is vital and the various ways to achieve it.

  • Practical activity (30 minutes):Now, remember my team was already anxious about this entire workshop, and on the very first activity, I would have asked them to draw? Then they would have skipped the whole thing, to put it mildly. Thus the activity I planned for this mindset was a 30-minute Aliens Have Landed exercise. Here, the participants are asked to imagine that aliens have landed on Earth and want to learn about them as a person. Since the aliens don't speak English, it needs to be explained with 5 symbols or pictures to describe their profession, favorite activity, favorite food, favorite movie and lastly, what they are currently listening to.

This is where using Mural came in handy. Since it offers a wide-ranging icon and image library to help enhance collaboration. Also, this activity served as a fun ice breaker for the team to kick off the workshop with.


2. Building empathy (1 hour)

Now, it was time to dig deeper. The first step on a design thinking journey is empathy, getting to the people you’re designing for and hearing from them in their own words. Using empathy allows us to step into the end user's shoes and understand and learn about them, and meet their requirements and goals. There are multiple ways to achieve that, either by observing real users, asking users to record journals or the strongest of them all, by interviewing users.

  • Presentation (20 minutes): What is empathy? Why is it so important to design for the user first? How to conduct effective user interviews using a potential questionnaire, along with tips on how to capture effective notes.

  • Practical activity (30 minutes): I was working on the application homepage around the same time. I decided to work this to my advantage. So it was time to activate the listening skills and interview actual users about how they use the homepage. For this activity, I paired six team members with one actual user, making one team member an interviewer and the other's observer. 

  • Reflection and discussion (10 minutes): Discuss the insights they had learned so far. Did everybody discover similar user needs, or was there variety?

The most triumphant observation I received from my team was that the insights they received were in contrast to what they thought would be. Although they were disgruntled with the limited time, I considered this a win. I was successful in convincing them to become aware of the users’ needs and use them to help solve real problems.


3. Reframe the Problem Statement (1 hour)

After identifying and agreeing on the top problem areas, we used that knowledge to frame design challenges. To prevent our mind from suggesting solutions, constructing ‘How might we’ questions allows for expansive thinking.‘How’ helps explore a variety of endeavors, ‘Might’ invites exploration of different solutions and ‘We’ promotes collaborative effort.

  • Presentation (20 minutes): What is problem reframing? How to frame an effective How Might We statement?

  • Practical activity (30 minutes): Team identified and shared the insights or pain points they had gathered. After a quick voting session, we reached an agreement on the top five insights among all the shareouts to go forward with. Now, it was time to turn those insights into statements such as How Might We.

  • Reflection and discussion (10 minutes): Discuss the insights they had learned so far.

The team was having a hard time crafting a well-framed statement without baking the solution in and that was making them uncomfortable. But I reassured them by saying that even the best innovators get uncomfortable. And the entire reason we were performing this activity was to uncover multiple iterations of the problem rather than fixating on the solution.


Finally, we concluded with a voting session to pick the four best statements. The selected statements were then going to serve as inspiration for ideas for the next activity.

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4. Create a Concept (1.5 hours)

In Design Thinking, it is imperative to make something tangible out of the insights and convert the problem statement into something concrete. There are several ways to prototype ideas, such as storyboards, models, and mock-ups. The goal is essentially to get the idea across to your stakeholders or users.

  • Presentation (30 minutes): A brief introduction on prototyping and its uses. Various ways to prototype and materials needed.

  • Practical activity (50 minutes): Retaining the pairs from Reframing the Problem Statement, the outcome for this step was to build out the idea and prototype two basic Homepage mockups. I had prepped the digital whiteboard templates in MURAL with icons, images and basic components. That was to help the team brainstorm ideas, organize their wireframe, align their understanding and make decisions together.

  • Reflection and discussion (10 minutes): Vote and decide on a winning prototype from each team to take to the next activity.

I wanted the team to just bring ideas to life, and understand that prototypes are inexpensive means of conveying an idea. Once the prototypes were ready, I had them share out their designs with the other team members. This was a powerful way to promote an idea and provide each team with a preferred design for moving forward.

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5. Be Iterative (1.5 hour)

Design Thinking is keeping the user's needs at the heart of the entire process. And the most important of them all is testing the solutions so that we can improve them based on the user's feedback. User feedback is a gem that provides valuable insights and aids in creating a more feasible and desirable solution.

  • Presentation (20 minutes): A brief introduction on user feedback and tips on how to solicit feedback using different methods.

  • Practical activity 1 (30 minutes): Recreating the team as earlier and with the winning design in hand. Go back to the previous actual user to get their feedback on the prototype.

  • Practical activity 2 (40 minutes): Build the collected feedback back into the prototype created earlier.

  • Reflection and discussion (10 minutes): Vote and decide on a winning prototype from each team to take to the next activity.

The team was pleasantly surprised because instead of betting that the design would be successful, they had received conclusive feedback without spending time or much effort on building the final product.


6. Foster Collaboration (1 hour)

At any point of time we would always be working in a team at a workplace. I wanted the team to experience the whole range of Design Thinking. Given that, collaboration is the most vital mindset of all. Thus post the feedback, I steered the workshop into a different direction. Collaboration in its most elemental form allows two or more people working together to complete a task or achieve a goal. Also, diverse perspectives, skills and expertise help develop innovative ideas and solutions.

  • Presentation (15 minutes): A brief introduction on collaboration and tips on how to share ideas and get feedback.

  • Practical activity (30 minutes): Once the user testing round was through, I pulled all iterated design solutions up on the Mural board. As one group, now they had to decide on a winning approach. Each participant had to place a sticker on the idea they thought was best and viable for implementation.

Debrief and next steps (15 minutes)

I wrapped up the workshop with a quick debrief on how Design Thinking can be used in the real world and reemphasized on the methods again. Since I am a UX Designer and staying true to my nature, I asked my participants for feedback so I could learn and improve my methods for future workshops. A quick Rose Thorn Bud for the feedback, features I liked, I wish and I wonder.

Next Steps

After conducting my first of many more to come workshop, I am continuing iterating and improving upon my future workshops. The feedback I received was the  workshop was engaging, and extremely interesting!

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Next Project

Redesign a Web Data Regulatory Platform for 60K firms

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