Run your own Design Thinking workshop

Ming Luan
Ming Luan
Nov 19, 2017 · 6 min read

Earlier this year, Airtasker partnered up with IKEA to give Airtaskers the opportunity to help IKEA customers get their furniture assembled. We were already getting about 10 times more assembly tasks posted onto our marketplace than IKEA were themselves, so it made a lot of sense to build on this relationship by trialling an in-store collaboration.

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Illustration by Jin Ju Hong

The design thinking process was central to the project: understand, define, ideate, prototype and test. All in all, it worked really well. We were even asked to run a workshop to teach design thinking to the customer experience leadership team — we ended up introducing design thinking to 26 customer experience leaders in under 90 minutes.

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“It turns out that creativity isn’t some rare gift to be enjoyed by the lucky few — it’s a natural part of human thinking and behaviour. In too many of us it gets blocked. But it can be unblocked. And unblocking that creative spark can have far-reaching implications for yourself, your organization, and your community.”

— Tom Kelley

Should you find yourself in a similar situation, we’ve put together this guide to get you started.

Planning the workshop

90 minutes is a fair amount of time. It’s easy to lose people’s attention by leaning too heavily on a presentation by itself. Thinking back to my school days, the classes I got the most out of were generally made of 3 key parts:

  • Lecture — to introduce the idea
  • Tutorial — a hands on experience with the new-found knowledge
  • Reflection — to think about the experience and how it relates to other things

That seemed like a good framework to follow. Suddenly 90 minutes didn’t seem so long.

IDEO, the company that popularised the term Design Thinking, have a great crash course (https://dschool.stanford.edu/resources/virtual-crash-course-video) available for this exact purpose — introduce design thinking in just 90 minutes. Taking this as a starting point, I tweaked it with some activities that we use at Airtasker on a daily basis.

Find a topic that’s relevant to your audience

In our trial run of the IDEO crash course with the design team we found the topic of gift giving was too broad. It turned out that some of the designers didn’t have any problems with their gift giving experience.

This sparked a discussion around alternative topics, something that needed to be general enough that everyone could relate to it but also specific enough that they had a good starting point. We settled on “improving the commuting experience”.

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Choose activities that stick

Help your participants grasp the key ideas of each design thinking phase. We picked and chose from the IDEO Design Thinking crash course and Google Venture’s Design Sprint and modified these for the time restraint:

  1. Understand — build empathy for the user by listening and observing by creating an interview guide (3 mins) then interviewing your buddy (5 mins each)
  2. Define — analyse your findings and jot down a list of problems (3 mins) then reframe them into an opportunity in the form of ‘How might we…’ (5 mins)
  3. Ideate — explore different solutions and check in with your user. We simplified crazy eights into furious fours, 4 sketches in 4 minutes. Followed by a feedback session, sharing your sketches with your partner (5 mins each)
  4. Design — based on the feedback, further explore one solution. We asked people to sketch out the idea into a 3 panel storyboard (8 mins)
  5. Test — one final round of feedback from your partner (5 mins each). Find out what worked and what could be improved.
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Put together a presentation

In our workshop we kicked off with a short presentation about what it’s like designing at Airtasker. This segwayed nicely into our product design process. Here we emphasised the two key parts of design thinking: designing the right thing (understand, define) and designing things right (ideate, design, test). Examples were used in each step to provide more context.

Introduce each step again just before the activity. If people are not clear about what needs to be done, try to give them examples that aren’t directly related to your challenge so you’re not subconsciously planting ideas.

Display a countdown timer that’s always visible. During our trial, I was the timekeeper, yelling at everyone when we passed half time on each activity and again when the time was up. No one appreciated it and it only made people stress out. Add a timer to your presentation.

Give handouts (maybe)

Handouts are optional, everything that needs doing can be done with blank pieces of paper and a pen. But absorbing all the new concepts in 90 minutes is already challenging enough, so it can be nice to have handouts that outline each activity and provide more information about what to do.

If you do go with handouts, I suggest using a paperclip to hold the pack together so participants can easily separate the sheets as needed.

Shopping list

  1. Pens
  2. Snacks
  3. Water
  4. Blank paper or handouts
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You’re just about ready to go! Don’t forget to help participants reflect on what they’ve learnt to help lock in the information. Open discussions about sharing unfinished work and engaging with a real person to get feedback worked well for us.

In the end, some of the solutions created were very “blue sky” so following up with real life insights from Airtasker worked well for us. In a bigger group, people might feel shy talking about their own designs, so in this case we asked them to share solutions their partner came up with.

Next steps

This is just a starting point. Feel free to iterate on this workshop — tweak timings and adapt activities to your needs. Next time I’ll like to add in a survey at the end to get feedback from participants about the workshop. I’ve included a download to the workshop, and please let us know your successes in running your own workshop.

Good luck!


Airtasker Design

Ideas from Airtasker's Design team

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