Design Thinking is not a workshop

Facilitating at the IBM Canada Design Summit

Eric Chung
Apr 15, 2020 · 5 min read
Group photo of the IBM Canada Design Summit 2019 attendees

Last year, IBM Canada hosted their fourth annual internal Design Summit, a conference for our Canadian design team members to meet and collaborate with each other at our head office in Markham.

I had the opportunity to join the head of IBM Studios Canada, Karel Vredenburg, and Senior Design Manager, Gord Davison along with several other design team members in co-facilitating a workshop for university students and faculty. The purpose of the workshop was to expose the students to IBM’s Enterprise Design Thinking (EDT) framework and guide them through a design challenge from problem to solution.

Since returning from Patterns, I have joined the Business Analytics design team in Toronto. Over here, there is a focus on designers to build their “eminence”, a way of adding value outside of the company. Never having facilitated a workshop before, I felt excited to pass on some of my knowledge to the students.

Design thinking is not a workshop. IBM’s Enterprise Design Thinking is a framework for problem solving that can be applied to virtually any area of your life. We facilitate workshops to empower diverse teams to collaborate and achieve a common goal.

The Loop

A key driver in the EDT framework is The Loop. It is a simple model that illustrates the iterative design process followed by many designers, especially at IBM.

This is an image of IBM’s Loop which illustrates the 3 key phases in an iterative design cycle: Observe, Reflect and Make.
This is an image of IBM’s Loop which illustrates the 3 key phases in an iterative design cycle: Observe, Reflect and Make.
Source: IBM Enterprise Design Thinking

By observing our users, we are able to build empathy for them and understand what they are experiencing. Common types of observation include usability testing, contextual inquiry or fly on the wall. Then, by reflecting on these observations, we can draw insights from them and ideate to make the next iteration of designs.

Understand the present and envision the future in a continuous cycle of observing, reflecting, and making.

So where does workshopping come into play? Workshops are a main component of the Reflect phase. They give designers and other stakeholders the time and space to find patterns in their collected data in order to inform their future design decisions.

The Design Challenge

After getting settled into our work area at the Markham lab, our team was given the prompt for the design challenge.

How might we incorporate multi-disciplinary collaboration into educational curricula (ie. business, design & engineering/computer science, plus more)?

My team included four university students, one IBM designer, and a design lecturer from York University, who represented our persona.

This is an image of my team sharing our idea with the hosts of the conference, Karel Vredenburg and Gord Davison.
This is an image of my team sharing our idea with the hosts of the conference, Karel Vredenburg and Gord Davison.
My team sharing our ideas with Karel and Gord.

Getting to know the user

In an effort to get the conversation flowing, I started by asking our persona a few questions about her role as a lecturer. The students on my team, though quiet at first, continued asking questions and recorded the answers on stickies, beginning the Empathy Map exercise.

As the exercise continued, I noticed that the conversation began to focus on specific pain points of our persona’s job, specifically searching for industry partners to bring in to work with her classes.

While the team did a playback of the empathy map, they noticed a reoccurring theme of frustration when our persona has to deal with signing legal documents with industry partners. They decided to dig deeper into her current experience of searching for industry partners that meet her academic and legal criteria.

This is an image of one of my team members playing back the As-Is Scenario Map to the rest of the team.
This is an image of one of my team members playing back the As-Is Scenario Map to the rest of the team.
Playback time!

Gaps in the current experience

Moving forward, I guided my team through an As-Is Scenario mapping exercise. The goal was to gain a better understanding of what our user does, thinks and feels during the process from discovering a potential industry partner to working with them and her class. Here, they were able to identify gaps in the current experience in which they could potentially introduce an improvement.

Thinking BIG

The next activity I explained was Big Ideas Vignettes. I asked them to think of potential solutions for our problem, some realistic and some beyond reality. With this activity, the ideas can be literal or figurative with the help of analogies (such as Tinder for Educators). After playing back the ideas, my team plotted them on to a Prioritization Grid. This tool helps narrow down ideas based on value to the user and feasibility for the team.

Storytelling

After collectively choosing a solution to move forward with, I led my team through a storyboarding exercise as a way to effectively communicate the solution through the eyes of the persona. As a designer, storytelling is a great skill to use to communicate with your stakeholders. Stories help build empathy with your audience as you walk them through the persona’s To-be scenario, in which your solution resolves their problem.

This is an image of our work in progress. Lots of stickies were used throughout this design challenge!
This is an image of our work in progress. Lots of stickies were used throughout this design challenge!
Lots of stickies were used during the workshop.

The Aftermath

I personally had a great time facilitating this workshop for my team, and in the end, we played back our story through a skit to the rest of the conference. The session was received with positive feedback all around.

Being my first time facilitating a workshop, here are some things I learned if you are interested in hosting a workshop in the future:

This is an image of our team presenting our final story on stage as a skit to the rest of the conference.
Conferences can be fun!

Get to know your team

Start with ice breakers, so that your team can get to know who they are working with. Having some background on your teammates can help you identify each other’s strengths and bring unique perspectives to any scenario.

Present with confidence

Being a first-time facilitator, I was excited yet unprepared. You are the expert here to teach and guide your team members. Be confident in your knowledge and control the flow of the workshop.

Stay aligned and on track

Your team should have a common shared understanding of what you are working towards. It is easy for an activity to get side-tracked or go over the allotted time. When the conversation drifts away from the intended topic, you should keep your team focused and on time. At times, I didn’t want to interrupt my team in the middle of a meaningful conversation. But part of hosting workshops, or any meeting for that matter, is staying on track. Everyone’s time is valuable and limited.

Have fun with it!

Workshops should be a safe place to get creative and collaborative. A great thing about workshops is arriving at an outcome that otherwise may not have been achievable alone. So after the workshop is over, it’s time for making!

Eric Chung is a UX Designer at IBM based in Toronto, Canada. The above article is personal and does not necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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