Ted Chu
Ted Chu
Aug 1 · 6 min read

Were you ever assigned with the task to plan a workshop for work?

In June 2019’s SDXD event, attendees had the opportunity to learn how to plan a workshop through a hands-on workshop. So meta! This blog post will cover SDXD’s process of planning a workshop, a specific example of a workshop planned by one of the attendee teams, and examples of workshops from past SDXD events.

Besides having a blast at this event and learning how to plan engaging workshops, I’ve concluded that planning a workshop is not just about what happens during the workshop. The workshop planners also have to consider how to generate empathy from its attendees on the topic that’s being discussed.

Agenda of Event:

  1. The SDXD board dove into their process of planning workshops (below).

2. Attendees broke up into teams of 4–5 to design a workshop following SDXD’s process. (Teams only had time to cover the two first phases: “Frame Challenge” and “Design Event” during this event.)

3. Each team presented their planned workshop and shared the challenges they faced.

I’m going to take a deep dive into what our team came up with during the event to provide some insight into some challenges that arose when planning for a workshop.

Framing the Challenge

For me, this was the hardest part. I had to try to understand what current challenges designers and other stakeholders face in the workplace. With multiple voices and ideas, we had to come up with a method to quickly filter out ideas and choose ones that were most applicable to current design trends. We diverged on many ideas and converged on ideas through a voting system where each member had 1 vote, ensuring everyone was heard. This led to our framed challenge of determining how a company should or should not create its own design system while accounting for accessibility. With the buzz of design language systems, we wanted to hold a workshop that allows employees to strategically think whether or not a design language system would be good for their team and not just follow the hype.

The Pause

During the workshop, Michael Vargas shared one of his teamwork productivity practices:

“Be cognizant of those in your team that’s speaking a lot and those that aren’t. Take a step back if you find yourself speaking the majority of the time to let others share their ideas.”

This was a valuable soft skill lesson. It really hit home for me. I didn’t realize that sometimes I assume those who haven’t spoken much don’t have anything to say, which is so far from the truth. I’ve learned that many times they do, and just need encouragement. This reminded me to be conscientious towards others and to provide windows for others to speak.

Designing the Event

In this phase, our team wanted to be creative and make the workshop engaging for attendees. Our agenda for the workshop was:

1. Start with a panel of design language system experts to share their experience with needs for a design language system

2. Main event: Building Lego blocks with mittens

The idea with Legos was to show that if you had pre-built Lego models, you can build complex Lego models more efficiently. The same concept can apply to design language systems. If you have pre-defined components, it’s easier to design with pre-defined modular components.

We added the mittens to account for accessibility and to have attendees become empathetic towards those with impaired motor control. It’s a lot more difficult to build Legos with mittens! This was the big takeaway we wanted from our event — To generate empathy on the topic being discussed.

Our Design Inspiration

Our inspiration for attempting to design a creative and engaging workshop came from SDXD. Tara Jensen, SDXD’s previous president, shared past workshop examples to give us a better idea of how these methods take shape for a workshop. Here’s one example:

These are attendees on the trolley conducting guerilla research!

Illuminating Community Challenges

As the workshop ended, each team had the opportunity to present what they came up with. It gave great insight into hot topics and work challenges that currently exist within the design community such as design systems and accessibility.

I’m always impressed with the SDXD events. The workshop promoted teamwork and allowed attendees to meet new people while forming new relationships.

My takeaway was to have a strategy to generate empathy around workshop topics and to use engaging methods. It may be difficult to keep attendees engaged during the workshop, especially if the workshop is lengthy. Here are some engagement methods passed down by SDXD:

  • Use game-like elements / Mid-Point Curveballs (e.g. gameboard style journey map or situational wild cards)
  • Try improv activities (e.g. group warm-up or role-playing)
  • Incorporate the unusual (e.g. user groups or user research on modes of transportation)

Wrap Up

This was an insightful workshop to help design and product teams run their own workshops. The event was very reflective of SDXD’s goal to elevate the San Diego community’s design skills and empower designers to become a strong influence within their respective workplaces. The event gave insight into the large effort required and unexpected challenges that arise when planning a workshop. Most importantly, we learned that we have to consider the attendees of our workshop. By considering them, we’ll be closer to generating empathy from the attendees on the workshop topic. Then the real fun starts, where we mix it up with the fun, engaging methods taught by SDXD.

Photos From the Event

Example of a Team’s Workshop Plan
Beau Sullivan, Senior Design Director at Mitchell International

I got involved with SDXD because they really provide an outlet for designers in San Diego to meet each other who have common passions and aspirations. SDXD has provided me with the opportunity to meet experienced designers and receive helpful tips along my journey as a UX designer. The topics of each event help me stay up to date with the latest trends within UX Design.

About SDXD, San Diego Experience Design is a catalyst for a vibrant San Diego experience design community. A professional networking and education organization, they serve primarily UX research and design practitioners but welcome anyone who works in, or is simply interested by, the various experience design disciplines and techniques (UX, IxD, usability, prototyping, HCI, service design, industrial design, etc.).

Find us at: http://www.sdxd.org/ http://www.meetup.com/s-d-x-d/

Volunteer, sponsor, or just plain get involved in this community. Find out how by visiting us at: http://www.sdxd.org/ These events are made possible by great people and by the companies that put us to work. If you or your company would like to sponsor us, we’d love to talk. Download our one-page about SDXD and the type of events we host. http://www.sdxd.org/sdxd-community/


SDXD is here to enrich the San Diego experience design community. We're comprised of professionals across a wide variety of disciplines. Join us: https://www.meetup.com/s-d-x-d/

Ted Chu

Written by

Ted Chu

UX Designer in San Diego



SDXD is here to enrich the San Diego experience design community. We're comprised of professionals across a wide variety of disciplines. Join us: https://www.meetup.com/s-d-x-d/

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