Lessons Learned from running Sketchstorming workshops

Sketchstorming session at UX Copenhagen 2018

Sketchstorming session at Viki Office

Just like any other skillset, the only way for you to be good at it is to keep doing it. This is the same for facilitating design workshops. Over the years, I had the opportunity to facilitate many Sketchstorming sessions.

Along the way, I’ve clustered a few big areas that need improvements. Most of them are the mistakes that I have personally made in the past while conducting these workshops, and many of them were feedback given by participants themselves.

I hope this sharing will benefit those designers who are planning to run their first similar ideation workshop in the future.

“Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice.” — Anton Chekhov

Mistake 1: Lack of warm-up prior to the session

Your colleagues who will be joining the workshop might have just got out from another meeting. While they might be physically present in the room, their mind might still be thinking about other discussions.

To get them into the mood, I will always start by instructing them to sketch the 30 circles exercise. This helps them to loosen up a bit and get into the momentum of sketching more later.

Participants weren’t prepared for what they have to do for the session. Many wasn’t that enthusiastic to do sketching and sharing. Always get them to do warm-up exercises before the real fun starts.

Mistake 2: Design challenge too broad

What are the goals of this session? State clearly in your meeting invites with notes on the objectives of the session. As for the design problem, make sure that they are not too narrow or too broad. Print out the problem statement on a big piece of paper and paste it on the wall, this is to make sure that everyone will stay focused on the same topic. A well-framed problem statement helps the team to generate more impactful of ideas.

Too broad: What can we do for John’s birthday?
Too narrow: What kind of birthday dinner celebration we should do for John?Just right: What is the most memorable birthday experience we could do for John?

Framed design problems were often too narrowed or too specific. Resulted in a vast of similar ideas from the group. Always identify the objectives with your team members prior to every session.

Mistake 3: Invited the wrong group of participants

When you put together a group of people from diverse industries and disciplines into your ideation session, the chances of getting fresh and unfamiliar ideas will be way higher than a team of designers from the department.

Breakthrough ideas happen not from same industries or disciplines, but rather across them, says Frans Johansson, author of The Medici Effect: “When you step into an intersection of fields, disciplines, or cultures, you can combine existing concepts into a large number of extraordinary new ideas.”

Here is the list of people that I will invite them into the room:

  • Customer Support (CX)
  • Front-end engineer (Dev)
  • Project Manager (PM)
  • Researcher (UX)
  • Designer (UX)
  • Back-end engineer (Dev)
  • TL:DR:
    Sketching sessions ended up with lots of repetitive ideas. Always invite a diverse group of people that are able to give unique perspectives for the given challenge.

    4. Lack of Supplies

    As a facilitator, it can be helpful to keep a pile of supplies in the office. There’s nothing worse when your participants are ready to brainstorm and you only have a dozen of dried-out sharpies! This may seem trivial but believe me, it happened to me a couple of times before.

    Always be sure you have all the supplies needed and prepared. Always prepare a supply checklist: colourful post-its, sharpies, Blu-Tac, stickers and stacks of papers are must-haves.

    5. Unsuitable venue and space

    Where will the workshop be held? How many participants will be attending? Is space brightly lit? The venue should feel inviting and open to encourage sharing among the team.

    From my experience, I tend to book a large room with tables and chairs that can be moved around easily, so that participants can have the flexibility to move around to draw or discuss in groups.

    Make sure there’s plenty of wall space and whiteboards as this conveys a sense of being invited and will encourage sharing among the team.

    Picked the right types of rooms for sketching sessions. Make sure that space/location is suitable for individuals to do what works for them to stay focused and ‘in the zone.’

    Mistake 6: Poor time management

    Timing activities efficiently is a skill. Always estimate and forecast how long a session will take. Spend time planning the flow of the session and its objectives so that it makes the best use out of everyone’s time. It may be a little more work for you — but it will be a better experience for the participants.

    The sketching sessions can sometimes extend longer than it was initially planned for due to some off-topic chats between the participants. So to manage the class well and instruct the participants to quiet down so that the session can end on time without any unnecessary interruption.

    Sessions seem to be getting longer and generating fewer results. Set a strict time limit for your meeting and make sure you stick to it! Encourage participants to stay on track and focus on producing as many ideas as possible within the allocated time frame.

    Mistake 7: Insufficient time for reflections

    Reflective conversations are important in any learning process. I would open up the floor for a 10 to 15 min conversation. Everyone has an equal opportunity to be part of this conversation. There will be some dominant voices in the group, do give the opportunity for the introverts to speak up.

    One way to easily incorporate reflection is by asking your group debriefing questions after the activities. I would often prompt questions like:

    • Tell me your impressions about how that went
    • What surprises you the most?
    • Which part do you struggle with the most? Why?
    • If you could go back and do the same task again, what would you do differently?
    • How were decisions made? Were everybody’s ideas listened to?

      Always try to allocate time for group reflection because it allows participants to look back on, think critically about, and learn from their past experience. This may include observations and ideas about anything regarding the session.


    So there you have it — these are the main challenges that I faced when facilitating Sketchstorming workshops. Here are the summary of the key mistakes:

  • Lack of warm-up prior to the session
  • Design challenge too broad
  • Invited the wrong group of participants
  • Lack of supplies
  • Unsuitable venue and space
  • Poor time management
  • Insufficient time for reflections

    I am still learning, day by day, to be a better facilitator. I believe that the best way to grow is to embrace your mistakes and learn from them. Any other useful tips for running an effective ideation workshop? I am always open to hearing your stories and lessons. Share your thoughts in the comments!

    Thank you!
    Twitter @choongchingteo
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