O'Reilly logo
live online training icon Live Online training

Effective design workshops

Planning and facilitating collaborative workshops

Paula Wellings

People love the idea of a design workshop. Post-its! Activities! Design thinking! Collaboration! Workshops, however, can also be resource intensive, and they require a clear vision to make good use of everyone's time, energy, and attention.

Paula Wellings walks you through the fundamentals of a successful design workshop, focusing on the social and psychological aspects of teamwork and collaboration as well as the practical mechanics of successful facilitation. In this hands-on three-hour course, you'll learn to plan and prepare a design workshop that fosters creativity, multidisciplinary collaboration, deep thinking, team alignment, and informed decision making. Along the way, you'll explore the mindsets, methods, and activities that can make group work a high-value and irreplaceable part of the design process.

What you'll learn-and how you can apply it

By the end of this live online course, you’ll understand:

  • The purpose of design workshops
  • The component parts of a good workshop
  • Aspects of group dynamics that can have an impact on workshop success
  • How to capture and make sense of workshop outputs

And you’ll be able to:

  • Plan and deliver a design workshop aimed at accomplishing your clearly defined objectives

This training course is for you because...

  • You’re a product manager who needs to create a shared vision and alignment between multiple teams.
  • You’re a design researcher who needs to support the transition from research findings to design ideation, prioritization, and development planning.
  • You’re a design strategist who wants to help a multidisciplinary team envision and prioritize user experiences across multiple channels and platforms.
  • You want to design and lead a design workshop.


Assignment to be completed before the course:

Related Safari videos:

Mastering Meetings and Workshops with the Whiteboard (video)

Org Design for Design Orgs: The workshop (video)

Recommended follow-up:

Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers (book)

Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers Paperback (book)

Innovation Games: Creating Breakthrough Products Through Collaborative Play (book)

This Is Service Design Thinking: Basics, Tools, Cases (book)

Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days (book)

About your instructor

  • Over the past 10 years, Paula has been leading design workshops to support organizations in creating new user experiences, launching new products, and building internal alignment in service of human centered design. She has a passion for facilitating effective collaboration and creating transformative workshop experiences. Paula has an MA in Education from Stanford’s Learning, Design and Technology program and a special interest in how people collaborate in groups and work together to co-construct meaning. As a design strategist and researcher, Paula currently works with GUiDEA – A Theresa Neil Design Company, and has previously worked at Adaptive Path and in Industrial IoT at Honeywell.


The timeframes are only estimates and may vary according to how the class is progressing

Introduction (10 minutes)

The mission of design workshops (30 minutes)

  • Lecture: A working definition of a design workshop; challenges design workshops are well-suited to address; defining design workshop objectives
  • Hands-on exercise: Identify the mission for your workshop and areas in your organization (or in the fictional case) where a design workshop will deliver unique value; determine what your design workshop must accomplish to be considered successful
  • Group discussion: What is the purpose of your design workshop?

Workshop participants (25 minutes)

  • Lecture: Group dynamics 101; creating inclusive environments for cross-group collaborations; colocated and distributed groups; requirements for good small and large group activities
  • Hands-on exercise: Identify participants for your workshop—the roles and individuals who need to attend your workshop for it to be successful
  • Group discussion: Who’s gonna be in your workshop?

Break (10 minutes)

Anatomy of a design workshop and getting started (20 minutes)

  • Lecture: Components of a design workshop; design workshops as experience design; the flow of activities and emotions throughout the workshop; the work before the workshop; starting your workshop right; including the necessary content to start everyone on the same page
  • Hands-on exercise: Identify opening activities and briefings for your workshop

Selecting and designing workshop activities (20 minutes)

  • Lecture: Choosing and creating activities for your participants that meet your workshop’s objectives; ensuring you are providing the group with meaningful and necessary work; capturing and using outputs from workshop activities
  • Hands-on exercise: Identify and select types of activities for your workshop

Managing logistics and workshop materials (15 minutes)

  • Lecture: The many details that can make or break a workshop, from invitations and prework to supplies, permissions, and the physical or virtual spaces
  • Hands-on exercise: Review your plan and identify logistics and materials

Break (10 minutes)

Q&A (10 minutes)

Workshop facilitation (15 minutes)

  • Lecture: Characteristics of workshop facilitation; facilitating with nonverbal communication; your workshop facilitator (secret) identity; facilitation super powers

Wrap-up and Q&A (15 minutes)

Homework: Consider your facilitator persona