How to use Design Thinging as a Workshop Warm-Up

Workshops are important in future oriented design practice. We often need to get people (stakeholders, clients, users, colleagues) together in the one place and thrash things out.

Jeremy Yuille
design→ ←futures
4 min readJun 22, 2015


Running a design workshop (well) is a key skill for any design leader.

Here’s a fun workshop warm-up technique, that’s a great ice-breaker, while also showing you how your participants will respond to different kinds of challenges.

Design Thinging: Origami Warm-Up


  • Origami Paper
    doesn’t have to be super special, but don’t try do this without square coloured, lightweight stock
  • Some Origami Instructions
    the more ambiguous the better (more on this later)

you can often get these together in a kit from craft stores


Set the stage: have your instructions in fixed locations so that people need to share them — you want to encourage people to make their model in public, and be a little crowded.

one poster with a range of origami instructions on it is fine for groups of up to 15 people. It’s also good if people are standing, rather than sitting down

Get them going: as a way to warm up people’s making muscles, ask them to grab some origami paper and build an origami model by following its instructions.

Timebox these efforts: 3–7 minutes should be fine. You want to make the time available just a little shorter than you think they’ll need.

Watch for the blockages: here’s where ambiguous instructions play a part. Many origami instructions assume knowledge of foundational, codified techniques, what you’re looking for is when people run up against this assumed knowledge.

With origami, this usually looks like someone not knowing how to get from one diagram to the next.

Reduce the Ambiguity: help out here by adding some of the assumed knowledgeyou’ll want to have studied some of these techniques beforehand — It helps if you can use one person’s project to show a group how to push through.

This is a great point to discuss how paper has its own way of doing things. Learning to feel to what the paper wants to do is a lot like learning to see what a complex design situation wants to do. Sometimes we call this insight.

Other things to look for: You’ve got this group with you for the rest of the workshop, and this exercise will also help you see how they tolerate ambiguity, work together, and deal with setbacks. It also helps you to introduce the idea that thinking can take many forms.

Why do I blog this?

This warm up is designed to attune people to important design capabilities:

  • the way different practices rely on tacit knowledge
  • practice in managing ambiguity,
  • how to listen to a situation (for what Donald Schön calls backtalk)
  • most importantly: sometimes we need to listen with our fingers

As I’ve said before, design is not just the thing that people make, it’s also the way people go about making things. Thinking of the old adage about teaching people to fish, I’m absolutely certain that teaching people how to attune their perceptions to these designerly ways of making will help them be better designers — whatever the medium…

This story first appeared on our blog

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Jeremy Yuille
design→ ←futures

Principal @WeAreMeld Melbourne. Designer, coach, learner, seeker, finder, explorer.