Design thinking workshops offer a collaborative and interactive approach to problem-solving that encourages creativity and innovation. 

The concept of design thinking is centered on the idea of empathizing with the end user, defining the problem, ideating potential solutions, prototyping and testing solutions, and iterating until a viable solution is found. 

Design thinking workshops are designed to facilitate this process by bringing together individuals from diverse backgrounds and skill sets to work towards a common goal. As a design researcher, I conduct UX workshops to fill the gaps with UX training, coaching, and collaboration.

In this article, I'll guide you through the ins and outs of running successful design thinking workshops, covering strategic planning, efficient time management, and the importance of creating a supportive and inclusive environment.

What are the origins of design thinking workshops?

Design thinking workshops have become increasingly popular in recent years, but their origins can be traced back to the 1960s. The concept of design thinking was first introduced by the design firm IDEO in the 1990s, but the roots of this approach can be found in the work of design theorists and educators from the mid-20th century. These pioneers recognized the importance of a human-centered approach to design, which focused on understanding the needs and desires of users in order to create products and services that truly met their needs.

One of the key figures in the development of design thinking was the German industrial designer Dieter Rams. Rams was a proponent of the "less is more" philosophy, which emphasized simplicity, functionality, and user-centered design. His work at the electronics company Braun in the 1950s and ‘60s helped to establish a new standard for industrial design, which focused on creating products that were both aesthetically pleasing and highly functional.

Today, design thinking workshops are used by companies and organizations around the world to solve complex problems and develop innovative solutions. By taking a human-centered approach to design, these workshops help to ensure that products and services are truly tailored to the needs of their users, leading to greater customer satisfaction and business success.

What are the objectives of design thinking workshops?

Design thinking workshop

To better understand the significance of design thinking workshops, let's look into the ways these workshops can foster innovation and problem-solving, and revolutionize the creative process to drive impactful outcomes.

Encourage empathy and understanding

In a design thinking workshop, participants are encouraged to put themselves in the shoes of the end-users or customers so they can gain a deeper understanding of their needs, desires, and pain points. 

This empathetic approach allows teams to uncover insights and identify opportunities for improvement or innovation. By immersing themselves in the experiences of their customers, teams can develop a more holistic understanding of the problem at hand, leading to more effective and impactful solutions.

Foster creativity and ideation

Another key objective of design thinking workshops is to foster creativity and ideation. Workshops provide a safe and supportive space for participants to think outside the box, challenge assumptions, and generate a wide range of ideas. Through brainstorming sessions, visualizations, and other creative techniques, teams can explore different possibilities and perspectives. 

This divergent thinking helps to break free from conventional solutions and opens up new avenues for innovation. By encouraging a free flow of ideas, design thinking workshops empower teams to come up with unique and groundbreaking solutions to complex problems.

Build and test prototypes

Design thinking workshops also focus on prototyping and iteration. Once ideas have been generated, teams are encouraged to quickly build and test prototypes of their solutions. 

This iterative process allows for rapid learning and refinement, ensuring that the final solution is both feasible and desirable. 

By embracing a fail-fast mentality, teams can quickly identify flaws or areas for improvement and make the necessary adjustments. This emphasis on prototyping and iteration helps to minimize risks and increase the chances of success when implementing the final solution.

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What are the benefits of design thinking workshops?

While there are many benefits to running design thinking workshops, there are three in particular that I want to emphasize. 

Design thinking workshop

They break down silos

One of the key benefits of design thinking workshops is their ability to break down silos and promote cross-functional collaboration. By bringing together individuals from different departments or disciplines, workshops facilitate the sharing of knowledge and expertise. 

Participants are encouraged to work together in multidisciplinary teams, leveraging their unique perspectives and skills to tackle complex challenges. This collaborative approach not only leads to more comprehensive and innovative solutions, but also fosters a sense of ownership and collective responsibility among team members.

They generate new ideas

Design thinking workshops also provide a safe and supportive environment for generating ideas. Participants are encouraged to suspend judgment and embrace ambiguity, creating a space where all ideas are valued and explored. 

Through a series of brainstorming sessions and ideation exercises, participants can tap into their creativity and generate a wide range of ideas. These workshops also provide opportunities for rapid prototyping and iteration, allowing participants to test and refine their ideas in real-time. 

By providing a structured yet flexible framework for idea generation, design thinking workshops empower participants to think creatively and take risks.

They provide structure for creativity

Another important aspect of design thinking workshops is that they provide a structured framework for the creative process. This framework helps to ensure that all ideas are given equal consideration and that the best solutions are identified and developed. 

By following a structured process, participants can avoid getting bogged down in details or becoming too attached to a particular idea. This can help keep the focus on the big picture and ensure that the final solution is both innovative and practical.

My three-step process for running design thinking workshops

Here are my three key steps for running a design thinking workshop.

Step 1: Set clear objectives

Firstly, it’s crucial to establish a clear objective for your workshop. This should be specific and measurable. Participants should be able to easily understand the purpose and desired outcomes of the session, too. 

Here’s an example of a detailed objective: “To create detailed user personas for the target audience of a new mobile banking app, based on comprehensive user research data.”

Pro tip: By defining a clear objective, you can guide participants towards having a focused and productive workshop. In this case, the objective of creating detailed user personas will help participants focus on understanding the key characteristics, needs, and behaviors of the app's target users. This will enable them to develop a more user-centric design strategy and enhance the overall user experience of the app.

Step 2: Plan a workshop agenda

A comprehensive workshop agenda is a must-have. This includes defining the precise duration of the workshop, allocating ample time for each activity, and arranging the sequence of events in a coherent and logical manner. 

The agenda should be structured to foster dynamic participation and active involvement from all attendees, ensuring each stage of the design thinking process is covered. 

Pro tip: Aim to integrate diverse brainstorming techniques, such as mind mapping or rapid ideation, to stimulate creativity and foster new ideas from participants. This approach can lead to innovative solutions and novel perspectives that contribute to the overall success of the workshop.

Step 3: Set up the environment

It’s important to create a supportive and inclusive setting that promotes collaboration and transparent communication. This can be accomplished by establishing ground rules and guidelines for respectful and constructive discussions.

Pro tip: Offer clear and concise instructions for each activity so that participants understand the purpose and expectations at each stage. Actively listen to the ideas and perspectives of all participants so that you create an atmosphere of trust and empowerment within the group. This approach encourages meaningful engagement and contributes to the overall success of the workshop.

Top tips for running design thinking workshops

Running an effective design thinking workshop requires strategic planning and careful execution. Incorporating the below strategies can significantly enhance the productivity and success of your workshop.

Design thinking workshop

Implement timeboxing to allocate specific time limits for each activity, including discussions. By adhering to a structured timeline, you can ensure that the workshop stays focused and that all tasks are completed within the designated time frame.

Assign a skilled facilitator 

Appoint a skilled facilitator proficient in design thinking methodologies to guide participants throughout the workshop. The facilitator's expertise will help maintain momentum and make sure that participants remain committed to achieving the workshop objectives collaboratively.

Invite subject matter experts

Encourage subject matter experts, such as UX designers, researchers, developers, and other relevant stakeholders, to provide valuable insights and feedback during the workshop. Leveraging their expertise can help validate the practicality and feasibility of ideas the group generates and anticipate potential challenges during the implementation phase.

Use icebreaker activities

I’m a big fan of icebreakers and start each design thinking workshop with some improv activities. Improv exercises greatly increase the trust, familiarity, enthusiasm, and social skills that are needed to overcome inhibitions that often stand in the way of the creative process. I find this particularly helpful when working with cross-disciplinary teams.

Manage strategic discussions 

Allocate dedicated time for strategic discussions, incorporating timeboxing to ensure they remain focused and productive. Additionally, consider implementing periods of focused work without discussions to preserve participants' mental energy and optimize productivity.

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The power of design thinking workshops

Design thinking workshops are a great way to promote innovation and problem-solving in organizations. They follow a systematic approach that encourages the exploration and validation of diverse ideas, leading to impactful solutions that meet the needs of your end-users. 

To ensure the success of these workshops, it’s important to have a well-defined objective and a carefully planned agenda that outlines the activities. Creating a supportive environment that fosters creativity and collaboration is also essential.

By implementing effective methodologies such as timeboxing, skilled facilitation, expert involvement, and dynamic icebreaker activities, you can drive positive outcomes and achieve transformative results.


Roxanne Rosewood is passionate about empowering teams through design sprints. As a design researcher and facilitator, she guides companies in crafting user-centric experiences. Read her blog at

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