How to plan out design workshops for rookies?

I am in Design-Workshop season right now, running a whole lot of sessions to introduce people to user-centered design & run through a generative cycle, to come up with some new ideas for legal services. I’ve been reflecting on my planning process, trying to be more thoughtful about what works well and how to enhance it.

One lesson I’ve taken away from facilitating is how important strong guidance is for design process-rookies. Providing them with incredibly constrained and directed tasks — breaking down the large stages of the design process into specific, concrete exercises — consistently proves to be the winner. When I’ve tried to introduce several methods at once, and let participants choose which to pursue, they tend to get overwhelmed and groups end up debating what path to choose rather than jumping into action.

Generally I’d rather the design process not be considered a formulaic recipe, but I realize the value of a very directed design process for people’s first few times through it.

In that spirit, I’ve taken to making more templated workbooks for workshop participants. I use them as props to keep the participants focused on one micro-task at a time, so that they can get into the larger flow of the design process by sketching, annotating, storyboarding, and mapping bit-by-bit. When they look back through it, it looks like a designer’s notebook full of ideas and insights, but they have strong support to actually produce it in strictly timed exercises.

Above, find one of my sketches for a workbook I created for a recent design workshop. I try to think of what end work product is possible in the given time & with the participants’ backgrounds. Then I work back from there, thinking which research, analysis, and generative exercises will feed into this work product. And then I take pen to paper, sketching out workbook pages that could direct these exercises & be companions for design rookies, with just enough structure to affirm they’re doing the task correctly but with enough blank space to let them get creative in exactly how they’ll carry out the task.