Running my first design thinking workshop

About six months into my journey as a design-thinker and a UX professional, I was scouting for every opportunity I could find to practice my skills. I had gotten great advice about opportunities and ways to develop my career and I was eager to test this knowledge. It’s always nice to get a solid lead, but if one is not readily available, one very simple and useful piece of advice I got was to lean on your community. And I took it to heart.

I’ve lived in a northern suburb of Chicago for almost 15 years. I love the small-town feel, the diversity, and the location. One of the best things it has to offer is the local library and the array of services that comes with it.

The library provides various programs and workshops to adults and children. One day I got the guts to reach out to the program manager of the library about leading my very first design thinking workshop. After a few emails of introduction and an in-person meeting, I got the job!

A few months after that, the announcement about my workshop was posted on their website. It was happening! I would be giving a workshop by myself for over an hour! Every time this thought came to mind, I felt excitement and anxiety in my core.

I decided to do something about that anxiety. I researched for resources online, there were so many workshop examples, but there wasn’t a script or guide on creating a one-of-a-kind workshop. Then a voice entered my head: Lean on your community! I knew a few people who had run a workshop, so I reached out to them for suggestions, and they invited me to observe them in action. Attending and observing other workshops gave me a lot of ideas and inspiration on how to run my own workshop. Although public speaking has never been my forte, I organized the materials and went through dry runs with friends and families for feedback. Things slowly came together…

On the day of the workshop, I arrived early. I didn’t know what to expect in terms of attendance and participants. The age group was 13 and up. A series of worst-case scenarios suddenly struck me. What if there were a bunch of screaming kids and I lost control of the workshop? What if people were bored by my materials and I failed to engage them? Still, I stopped panicking and pulled myself together to figure out the AV setup.

Finally, it was the starting time. Five minutes into the presentation, I wasn’t nervous about presenting the material except the fact that I had to juggle presenting with the time keeping, and the DJing (for background music) at the same time. I was wondering, are they getting bored? The workshop was designed to have speaking, hand-on activity, and reflection for each step of the design thinking process. We jumped into the first exercise of mock interviewing with their partners. I was happy that a few of them asked questions. I provided more examples to clarify the concept, the participants seemed more comfortable and moved on. Everything was going smoothly until a woman came to me, “I’m sorry I can’t come up with a prototype because…”

My brain froze for a second, I wanted to insist on doing the exercise during the assigned time, because prototyping is one of the most powerful parts of the process. But in talking to her, I understood why and what she had gotten stuck on. I decided to keep the learning flexible and do what worked best for her.

So instead of pushing her to create something for the sake of creating, I smiled and said, “I understand there are many unknowns, and we don’t have the people here who represent your user group. Would you like to spend this time to brainstorm more potential problems and pain points of the users you are designing for? We can see how we can help as a class during reflection.”

During the last sharing session, everyone’s eyes lit up as they described their prototypes to the class. They were amazed by how testing with users can help them refine their prototypes. One person even said, “I might take this to market!” The 90 minutes went by quickly. Although the workshop was relatively short, it was a great learning experience for the attendees and for me.

Here are some of the key takeaways I learned from this experience:

On running a design thinking workshop or any workshop:

● Have a clear agenda.

● Preparation (before and on the day of) is key!

● Have a variety of well-thought-out stimuli and activities. (Hip-hop jazz for background music works on almost any occasion!)

● Focus on creating a fun and interactive learning experience, not just the output.

For anything in life:

● Let passion drive you.

● Lean on your community.

● Don’t be afraid to be the first.

Here is a snippet of the workshop in action!