Insight - 01/22/24

How to Facilitate a Co-Design Workshop

5 min

By Meghan Day

Co-design is an approach to design that actively involves end-users and stakeholders in the creative process. In co-design, the people who will ultimately use the product, service, or system are brought into the design process as active participants rather than as passive recipients. It can be an incredibly powerful method for understanding your users and creating products that speak directly to their needs. A co-design workshop is a classic tool for practicing co-design. In this Insight article we’ll outline how to facilitate a co-design workshop. Whether you’re diving into design-thinking, human-centered design, or UX projects, these tips and tricks will ensure your workshops are not only productive but also fun, dynamic, and actionable. Be sure to check out our list of resources at the end for some wonderful kits and tools to help you with your next workshop.

Photo: Jason Goodman

What is a Co-Design Workshop?

A co-design workshop is a collaborative and interactive session where diverse stakeholders, such as clients and end-users, come together to actively participate in the design process of a product, service, or solution. The primary purpose of a co-design workshop is to harness collective creativity, knowledge, and perspectives. The workshop aims to generate innovative ideas, solve problems, and create user-centered solutions. During a co-design workshop, participants engage in a series of structured activities, discussions, and brainstorming sessions. They share their insights and needs, working together to ideate and refine design solutions. This collaborative approach ensures that the final outcome reflects the input and preferences of all those involved.

Key Aspects of a Co-Design Workshop

There are a number of priorities to keep front and center when developing a co-design workshop. Doing so ensures that the participants are comfortable, empowered, and respected, and that their voices are at the center of the experience. These priorities include:

  • Inclusivity: Co-design workshops involve a diverse group of participants, ensuring representation from various perspectives and backgrounds.
  • Empathy: Participants empathize with the end-users, striving to understand their experiences, challenges, and aspirations. This empathetic approach is fundamental to creating solutions that genuinely meet user needs.
  • Creativity: The workshops encourage participants to think creatively, explore unconventional ideas, and push boundaries to develop innovative solutions.
  • Iterative Process: Co-design workshops often involve iterative cycles, allowing participants to refine and improve their ideas based on feedback and collaborative discussions.
  • Hands-on Activities: Participants engage in hands-on activities such as brainstorming, sketching, prototyping, and user testing. These activities facilitate active participation and idea generation.
  • Shared Ownership: Co-design workshops promote a sense of shared ownership among participants, fostering a collaborative environment where everyone contributes to the design process.

The ultimate goal of a co-design workshop is to create solutions that are not only functional and effective but also resonate with the end-users on a deep level. By involving stakeholders in the design process, co-design workshops enhance the quality, relevance, and acceptance of the final product or service, leading to more successful and user-friendly outcomes.

Facilitating a Co-Design Workshop in 12 steps

A co-design workshop is a big undertaking, and requires a lot of planning and development. Plan well in advance and create the agenda with care. Here are 12 steps to help you facilitate your co-design workshop with success:

1. Define Clear Goals: Know what you want to accomplish and communicate these goals clearly to participants beforehand.

2. Set the Stage: Create an inspiring environment with ample natural light, colorful supplies, and engaging materials. The ambiance is a powerful tool to create a comfortable, save, inviting atmosphere. Offer food and beverages. Seek out a pleasant venue that is easy to access.

3. Craft a Story: Design your workshop activities like a story, such that each exercise builds on the findings of the previous one.

4. Create Structure: Give exercises a clear beginning, middle, and end. Participants should feel comfortable, understand what’s expected, and see the purpose of each activity. Signpost progress so the group is with you every step of the way.

5. Embrace Creativity: Get creative with exercises, adapting them to your specific needs. Unique activities keep participants engaged and challenged.

6. Give Clear Instructions: Provide step-by-step instructions, but reveal them gradually to prevent confusion and keep participants on track. Providing copies of your instructions in writing can be useful for your participants to reference, either on a shared whiteboard or presentation, or on handouts you share.

7. Allow Breaks: Incorporate breaks for participants to process ideas, mingle, and recharge. And get snacks!

8. Intermingle Teams: Keep energy high by allowing participants to switch teams or seating arrangements, encouraging fresh ideas and perspectives. Activities that involve movement can be great for this as well.

9. Idea “Parking Lot”: Have a designated space to capture valuable but off-topic ideas. This ensures participants feel heard without derailing the main discussion. These ideas might be revisited at a later point in the workshop.

10. Attention Grabbers: Use timers, chimes, or visual cues to regain participants’ attention and guide them through exercises. These signals can help create structure in your workshop.

11. Be a Timekeeper: Stay on track, cut off discussions if needed, and respect participants’ time. Flexibility is key, but end the workshop punctually.

12. Effective Wrap-Up: Summarize achievements, ask key questions, and ensure participants leave knowing the next steps. You may want to conduct a feedback survey to get immediate insights about the workshop experience. Follow up with a thank you message and a summary of the workshop outcomes.

We also highly recommend having a dedicated notetaker and photographer and/or videographer for your co-design workshops, provided your participants agree and sign release forms as needed. Documenting your process is powerful and can lead to additional insights when you debrief with your team. It’s also a wonderful way to share the story of your workshop with others, and capture the assets created.

Facilitating a workshop is an art that combines structure, creativity, and empathy. By mastering these techniques, you’ll not only become a proficient facilitator but also a driving force behind transformative and impactful co-design workshops.

Photo: RF Studio

Co-Design Workshop Resources

This Co-Design Kit includes useful case studies that demonstrate the principles in action.

A third of The Convivial Toolbox, a book about generative design research, is dedicated to methods and strategies, with the rest of the book discussing the nature and importance of co-design.

This co-design web resource conveniently sorts activities and strategies into the stages of the design process. A great place to find activities for your workshop.

This co-design toolkit is specifically targeted to workshops around disabilities but is so wonderfully organized that it is useful for any workshop facilitator.

This co-design web resource has a number of excellent suggestions for both structuring as well as facilitating a co-design workshop.

Check out the rest of our Insight series to learn more about the design industry. Sign up for our newsletter and follow us on Instagram and LinkedIn for design news, multi-media recommendations, and to learn more about product design and development!


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