We know about Inclusive Design, but what about inclusive workshops?

How we can apply our inclusive design principles to our workshops to create better environments and relationships.

Liz Hamburger
Nov 4 · 6 min read

Recently, I spent some time thinking about my most recent article — facilitating workshops, and the comment I made about everyone being engaged. When I think back to the session again, there were a couple of people who weren’t as vocal as the other participants, which made me think; perhaps I didn’t do enough to make sure the workshop was inclusive.

As a Digital Product Designer, I spend my time thinking about how I can make digital products work for people. It’s my job to design for inclusivity, for an audience with various needs and where I can, make design decisions based on the information I’ve heard straight from the users themselves. Therefore, if I apply this process to my design work, I should most definitely apply it to my process of designing workshops.

Many workshop tasks are focused around writing our ideas down and it’s natural for some people to produce more ideas than others — but what if some people didn’t feel comfortable in sharing their ideas because they were of an introverted nature? Or maybe they had issues with spelling? Perhaps English wasn’t their first language?

When hosting a workshop it is easy for me to focus on myself, worrying whether I come across well, if I’ve chosen the right activities, if I sound convincing enough as a professional designer, when really I should be considering the others in the room, just as I would if these participants were users of a product I had designed.

In my quest to improve my process of designing workshops, I’ve spent some time researching and looking into the subject of inclusivity within collaborative workshop and meeting settings. Below are a few thoughts that I’ve gathered on the subject as well as new ideas I will include in planning and running future workshops.

Know your participants

Usually, when you host a workshop you would have some idea of who will be attending. That said, if you are hosting a workshop with a new client or group of people that may not be the case. When working with people you have not met before, it’s key to make sure that the workshop itself caters for those with a range of abilities and backgrounds.

The space where you hold your workshop is really important and there are a few questions you should ask yourself before booking a room. Some of these are:

  1. Does the space exclude those who are less mobile?
  2. Is the route to the space easy to access with or without mobility aids?
  3. Does the space have bathrooms that are easily accessible?

When sending out the calendar invite to people who you have not met before, be clear about the space you have planned for the workshop, and if you can – the general content. As the more information, you provide for the participants the better as this will hopefully help with assumptions your guests may have about you, your chosen space or the type of work which will be involved.

You can also ask if any of the attendees have specific needs in regards to the space or whether they may have difficulty in engaging with the planned activities.

Be mindful of the activities

When considering activities of the workshop, naturally you will want to pick something that either generates the best ideas or provides the best value for those in the room. However, once you have decided what those activities are, you must consider how everyone can participate.

For example, what alternatives can you provide for someone who has difficulty writing their ideas down; Is there the possibility that they can draw their ideas in pictures rather than words. Can people work in pairs, so one person writes while the other verbally communicate?

If you are a designer hosting a workshop it is incredibly important to understand that not everyone enjoys drawing. As a designer myself, I don’t like doing drawing activities at all and in fact, prefer to write my ideas down. It’s really beneficial to allow your participants to communicate in a way that is most comfortable to them as it’s not their beautiful drawing skills you are after, it is their great ideas.

Interesting fact

1 in 50 people don’t have the ability to visualise ideas at all — it’s called Aphantasia (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-34039054) where people can not imagine a visual picture in there mind's eye. This means that someone in your group might be hesitant to draw because they struggle to visualise their ideas.

People also have different ways of learning, therefore if you have a presentation that relies solely on images and text on a screen, these hinder those in the group who prefer to learn by listening to a lecture, or experiential activities. A balance throughout your workshop is important and relying on one method to communicate can pose a risk that you may exclude those in the team.

Also, pay attention to your content. As a designer, I am overly familiar with the concept of user personas, journey maps, wireframes and interface design. Therefore, it’s really important to take a step back and ask ourselves whether those who aren’t designers or in our industry — would they understand our workshop activities if they are based upon ideas such as journey maps or wireframes.

Consider personality traits

When talking about inclusion, we generally focus on physical or learning disabilities. But there is another aspect to consider, personality traits. Have you ever been in a meeting where there is someone talking and you can’t get a word in edgeways? Or you find that someone has not said a word the entire time? This is another really important aspect to consider while the workshop is in motion.

Those who are naturally introverted may not wish to draw attention to themselves though they have wonderful ideas, and those who are extroverted may not realise that others in the room don’t feel comfortable in speaking up.

As a facilitator, it’s key that you take note of who is in the room and how they are interacting as a group. If someone has not commented much, or there is a person who appears unengaged, then try to connect with them. Personally, I’m someone who engages best by just listening, so for a workshop facilitator, it could appear as though I’m not that interested. That said, it’s worth considering that those who don’t engage or volunteer ideas may not have understood the activity initially.

For those in the group who are extroverts, it can be difficult to balance the enthusiasm whilst giving everyone else a chance to contribute. If you have someone in your group who is being more vocal than anyone else, you can always suggest that they write down their ideas, or ask another person in the room how they can build on that idea — once again read the room and see who would be comfortable in contributing if called upon.

Understanding and developing our inclusive approach will be an ongoing process. This post has only skimmed the surface with how I and others can plan and host an inclusive workshop, therefore, I’ll continue my research and keep improving my process as much as I can.

How do you ensure your workshops are inclusive? Is this something that is new to you or not considered before? Share your thoughts here or via our twitter, we’re @InktrapDesign.

A great article by Vasant Chari working for gov.uk https://openpolicy.blog.gov.uk/2017/12/05/designing-workshops-for-everyone/

Multiple case studies and resources here


Thoughts, feelings and emotions from the Inktrap team

Thanks to Sam Lester, James Hanks, and Jon Barker

Liz Hamburger

Written by

Product Designer at Inktrap



Thoughts, feelings and emotions from the Inktrap team

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