Personal tools

How to engage entire departments (students and faculty) in a design thinking workshop

From University Innovation

Jump to: navigation, search



Design thinking workshops are a powerful tool to engage both students, faculty, and businesses concerning a common interest. The following “how-to” guide is constructed from an interview with UI fellow Valerie Sherry, who implemented a design thinking workshop about the future of the library at the University of Maryland.  She has since conducted several other design thinking workshops.


It is likely you are considering a design thinking workshop because of a specific issue that has emerged on your campus or in your community.  In Valerie’s case, budget constraints were threatening to close one of the campus libraries.  Her goals for the workshop were to use design thinking to shape the future of the library and to engage students, faculty, and stakeholders across campus.  She hoped that the workshop would provide a way for students to have a voice in the matter, and that her efforts would have a significant and long-lasting.

Think of what goals and outcomes you would like for your workshop as you begin planning.

14369318756 5ab9fa7d65 b.jpg


Adequate planning is critical for the implementation and success of a design thinking workshop.  The following is Valerie’s advice for planning.

Peer Engagement; identify and interview stakeholders

Talk to peers who are also passionate about the project.  These peers can help take much of the workload off of yourself.  From these peers, from a task force that will be focused on gaining insight on the problem at hand. The task force should first identify stakeholders in the matter, and subsequently interview these stakeholders about their experiences and vision.

Planning team

From here, form a planning team.  In Valerie’s case this planning team was made up of students and faculty from across campus.  Valerie notes that faculty engagement was critical, since they would ensure lasting change after the students left.  Local community engagement may be appropriate as well.  After the planning team is created, the peer task force should present the team with the data from their stakeholder interviews.

As a planning team, together narrow down the expectations and main question the workshop should try to answer.

Advertising and timing

For maximum participation in the event, pick a time that works well with everyone (students and faculty).  If the event takes place during class time for students, figure out how to excuse people from the classes for the workshop.

To increase your chances of more participation, be empathetic when telling them about the event.  Put yourself in their shoes and give them a reason to care about the cause by using diction that would appeal to all sectors.  Ask students to spread the word to their friends and colleagues, and ask faculty to invite anyone they think would be interested in the event.  To gauge participation, resources like Eventbrite could help you estimate the number of people attending. If applicable form a marketing plan, such as advertising through social media forums and other websites.

Physical Space

Find a space that will accommodate the expected number of people, and will fit your needs.  Perhaps you would like mobile white boards, chairs, desks, etc.  Locate a neutral space on campus and get the appropriate permission to use it.  If additional equipment is needed, locate other resources on campus to acquire them.

Ideal space to host a design thinking workshop


In Valerie’s words, don’t underestimate the power of free food and coffee, especially if this is a half a day or full day workshop.  To help pay for these things, see if your department/other departments or stakeholders have funds to help out.


When designing the specific event, make sure you are thinking about your participants.  Design activities that make sense for them.  Before the event, establish two or more facilitators that can help run things.  These people would know the order of activates, and help in any logistics.  This may include a lead facilitator, student facilitator, and a faculty facilitator.

 In Valerie’s case, a half-day workshop would include:

A brief welcome and overview talk by the facilitator(s).  Consider using resources like Ignite Powerpoint to quickly get your message across

Break up the large group into small groups for the specific tasks.  The small groups should contain team captains that may be at least a little bit familiar with the task at hand.  The small teams would then participate in design thinking activities at their station:
1.      Empathy (gaining insights from people)

2.      Defining the problem.  After the teams complete this part, ask each teams to share their thoughts to the larger group

3.      Ideate – ask each team to brainstorm on their problem(s)

4.      Assess – have people walk around and give real-time feedback on the ideas they thought were the best

After the event, closring remarks may be appropriate


  • Language is critical when trying to spread the work about the event.  Different people will respond the terms differently.  Before trying to advertise and tell people about the workshop, frame your idea in a way they can relate to
  • Factor in breaks into the workshop.
  • Inviting industry and community members to participate could prove insightful and useful for the outcomes of the workshop.

Related Links

Jesus Gomez

Written by: Adam Jansons, Emily Klonicki, Caroline Millin, Brandon Crockett, Nick Capaldini