Facilitating Non-Designers

Project Overview
In this research project, I discover what might define a successful co-creative workshop and what factors can influence the success of a workshop when facilitating non-designers.
Research Questions
What categorizes a successful workshop?
How can different factors influence the success of a workshop?
How might we successfully facilitate non-designers?

Ever since I got into the field of design, there has always been a discussion about how to explain and defend my design choices. Every designer I know has been in a situation where they’ve had to defend their choices for non-designers. As designers, we need to understand that there are times when we see things in a different way than non-designers. And it is part of our job to see eye to eye and try to help our coworkers and clients understand our point of view. But we also need to understand them, and how to properly communicate with different types of individuals both within and outside of our organizations. And I believe workshop spaces can assist in creating constructive discussions where designers and non-designers can draw value from each other and empathize with each other’s different ways of reflecting and ways of tackling a project.


What is our role as designers within organizations?
UNESCO International Design Expert, Victor Papanek (1972) argued that ‘‘design is basic to all human activities—the placing and patterning of any act towards a desired goal constitutes a design process.’’ Designing is what human beings do. In ‘Design for the Real World’, Papanek suggested that design need to evolve into an inventive, multidisciplinary, highly creative instrument that caters to the real needs of society. Further, Papanek suggests that designers should be conscious of their moral and social responsibility. However, he contends that this work has grown considerably more difficult as a result of how the designer's life is shaped by a market- and profit-oriented society. He suggests that a solution to work more intelligently in this matter, is for the designer to work directly for the user group and not for the corporations. However, at the time where Papanek wrote his book he argued that “the role of the designer as an advocate does not exist.” In today’s society, I believe there is a bigger focus on the user and their needs. However, the influence of market- and profit-oriented society is still present. Victor Papanek (1972) argues that our role as designers is changing into a role as ‘facilitators’. In bigger organizations our role is often to bring the needs of the user into the spotlight and to advocate for their needs. This is also what designer and writer Celenza (2023) argues in her article for the Fast Company when she states, “In a model that strives for maturity, designers are not incentivized to be sole experts; rather, they are encouraged to be advocates and connectors.” And I believe this is exactly what we do in a co-creative workshop, rather than making design choices based on our own expertise, we facilitate a discussion and idea generation between stakeholders.


What do I mean by non-designers?

As the focus of this project is on designers and non-designers within an organization, I refer to non-designers as someone who does not work in a design position within an organization. In historically non-designer-oriented sectors and disciplines such as business, education, anthropology, psychology, IT, and engineering, the ability to apply a design perspective is becoming more acknowledged as a valuable asset (Thackara, 2005). Based on my analysis, there is a gap between designers and non-designers within organizations. And I believe it is important to focus on how we as designers might facilitate and collaborate better with non-designers. My impression is that the gap we are currently facing is due to factors such as priority, time, communication, and economy.


How do we define co-creation?

According to Nicolas Ind from Kristiania University College (2013), the term co-creation has gained popularity to indicate a paradigm shift away from corporations as value definers and toward a more collaborative approach where individuals and organizations work together to create and grow meaning. In facilitated workshops, participants from various roles come together and provide a variety of ideas. Thus, designers may acquire more comprehensive perceptions of what should be included in a service or product. According to Lupton (2017, p. 82), designers collaborate with consumers during co-creation to comprehend the context of a project and discover how novel ideas could enhance people's lives.

I have noticed that many designers get frustrated by the rapid use of so-called co-creative workshops facilitated by non-designer. In the head of many designers, a workshop must possess particular characteristics, attitudes, contents, and objectives to be categorized as a creative workshop. And when non-designers explain how they had a workshop where they came up with ideas that they wrote on post-its, some designers question whether this categorizes as a workshop or not. This makes me wonder, what distinguishes a co-creative workshop from a meeting?

In my opinion, meetings may be for sharing and delivering information. And the goal of the discussions happening is often to have some sort of alignment. Whereas a co-creative workshop might feel more vulnerable and less clear for the participants. Often the participants of a co-creative workshop are discovering and exploring ideas and concepts together. And the goal in a co-creative workshop is often for everyone to feel comfortable and okay with saying their thoughts no matter how stupid they might feel about it. In addition to this, the outcome of a meeting might be more tangible and clearer than the outcome of a co-creative workshop. I also believe all the participants of a co-creative workshop might be looked at as more valuable because their thoughts are so dearly needed, while I do not believe this is the case in a number of meetings.

According to Rogelberg (2007), a crucial aspect of organizational life is meetings, as they can be quite useful as a means of communication, giving executives a way to communicate their vision, create strategic goals, and come up with solutions to problems and opportunities that affect their companies. In addition to this, meetings are an important platform for employees to share information, establish common ground, generate new ideas, manage relationships, and make or break the team culture through their interactions in meetings (Meinecke et al., 2005, p. 568). In addition to this, they support official and informal reporting mechanisms and offer hints about corporate values and power dynamics (Rogelberg et al., 2007, p. 18).

In order to co-create, control must be given up and handed to potential customers, consumers, or end users, which poses a threat to the well-established power structures (Sanders & Stappers, 2008, p. 9). Hierarchy and control are the foundations of the current power systems of many corporations. For individuals who have been successful while in control, it can be quite difficult to give that up or to see a new method of conducting business that can likewise be successful. In addition to this, many people can find it hard to believe they are creative and acting in a creative manner. However, co-creating requires that researchers, designers, customers, and the individuals who will eventually benefit from the co-creation experience, all exercise creative initiative for it to be successful (Sanders & Stappers, 2008, p. 9).


The Interviews

During the beginning stages of this project, the topic of focus was facilitating co-creative workshops and how to facilitate non-designers in a way where they feel more purpose and engagement. As this is a wide topic to unfold, I decided to focus on what designers view as a successful workshop and what factors they find more important when facilitating a workshop. To challenge the interviewees to share their experiences with workshop facilitation in rich detail, I chose to employ two methods during one-on-one interviews: Card Sorting (ranking factors influencing a co-creative workshop) and Build Your Workshop (visually building a workshop).

There were six experts taking part in the interviews. Since I was striving for a wide variety of expertise, the interviewees were of different gender, ages, nationalities, experience, and professional and educational background. This choice was made because I believed these factors could have a big impact on how the interviewees would reflect on workshops and their experiences with facilitating. 

The interviews were conducted digitally through Miro as most of the interviewees were located in different countries. The interviews were facilitated as a discussion, however, there were parts where the participants were given time to think and focus on what they were doing without disruption. During these parts of the interviews the interviewees were asked to use the think-aloud protocol. When using the think-aloud protocol method it allows the researcher to gain access to the participants' thought processes while they are interacting with a service, activity or tool. This was a valuable opportunity to gain qualitative insights into the interviewees’ rationale and thought process when they were doing tasks in Miro.


Build your workshop

During the card sorting, I would ask the participants: What factors are most important when facilitating a successful co-creative workshop? And when doing this I would have them explain how they personally would define a successful co-creative workshop. Some of the participants found this open question quite challenging and asked for a specific scenario. However, since I did not want to nudge the participants in a certain direction, I wanted to find a method to satisfy the participants’ wishes for a scenario without creating one for them. Therefore, I decided to give them visual props to build the scenario of a successful workshop themselves. The purpose of this method was to get insight into what the experts perceive as a successful workshop. Just like the Card Sorting, this part of the interviews was facilitated through Miro. And the interviewees could write and move components around in a premade setup. 

Visually constructing a workshop environment has similarities to city-building games, such as SimCity. In these games, the open-ended world frequently lets players freely explore to construct, demolish, and rebuild a broad range of urban typologies (Bereitschaft, 2016). As it is implied that the player has several roles such as mayor, city planner, transportation engineer, and so on, the player has unlimited reign. Commonly the only limits are resources and finite space. And according to Bereitschaft (2016), this unilateral way of playing maximizes the entertainment value of the game. When my participants built their workshops, they were free to set up the workshop room however they wanted, which is not common for most designers. Usually, designers plan the workshop program, bring the tools, find and book a space, and sometimes they bring refreshments if it is not provided in the space they have chosen. However, it is very rare for designers to choose and change all components in the actual room of the workshop, which might be an unrealistic but refreshing experience for some designers. When being able to make all of the decisions regarding the workshop, there is a great deal of reflection involved. This is the case in these city-building games as well. In addition to this, these kinds of games are tested in pedagogy and have in several cases proven to enhance or develop creative, analytical, deductive, and logical thinking processes. This is because the player is nudged to reflect on their choices and how they might affect other components (Bereitschaft, 2021). 


What is Card Sorting & how did I use it?

Card sorting is a simple tool that may be used to better understand the users we are designing for (Spencer, D., 2009). It is often used to understand what and how users think of a topic. (Bland & Osterwalder, 2019). Essentially, card sorting is a very straightforward strategy that involves writing information on index cards (or the software equivalent) and asking participants to arrange the cards according to the information. Most commonly the facilitator gives the participant a deck of cards that have example content written on them. Then the participant sorts the cards into piles according to what’s similar and describes the groups they have created. Additionally, it is common to have the participant sort the cards into predetermined categories (Spencer, D., 2009). 

In my case, the goal of this method was to get an in-depth insight into my interviewees' opinions on different factors that can have an impact on the outcome of a co-creative workshop. The reason I chose card sorting as a tool is because it is a visual tool that can create discussion. Instead of a traditional interview, I believe that card sorting can help me as a facilitator to ask the questions I want and get insights from the interviewees by using simple visuals and words instead of questions that can lead the discussion in a certain direction. By using the cards to facilitate a conversation, the interview felt more like a discussion than an interview. 

When conducting the card sorting the interviewees were presented with a handful of cards containing different aspects that can influence a co-creative workshop. The participants were asked: What factors are most important when facilitating a successful co-creative workshop? To get the interviewees' views on what is important about workshop activities, I challenged them to sort the cards along a continuum from ‘least important’ to ‘most important’, rather than use ‘closed card sorting’ in which the categories are predetermined. Since there was no right or wrong answer, the interviewees were nudged into giving their own personal opinion on the topic. For the Card Sorting, I designed a set of cards, each containing a factor that can have an impact on a co-creative workshop in one way or another. The different factors included in the original cards come from my experience with workshops and what I believe can have an impact on a co-creative workshop, in addition to topics that emerged when doing desk research on the topic.

After sorting the cards, the participants were asked to add cards they personally would add to the deck. This was done by handing them a set of post-its and having them write down their ideas and adding them to the scale with the other cards. These cards were afterward designed to match the original cards and used during the next card sorting sessions.


What do designers find important about workshop designs? 

During the interviews, most of the interviewees stated that they found all of the cards in the card sorting important in one way or another. I will bring forth the cards that were regarded as most important for achieving a successful co-creative workshop. Most important, meaning cards that were placed as important by three or more out of six interviewees.


How can we negatively effect the workshop?

As the topic of my thesis revolves around workshops, it felt natural to facilitate a workshop using some of the insights retrieved from the card sorting and the ‘build your workshop’ exercise. However, as I had focused on what a successful workshop looks like during the interviews, I wanted to change my focus to what might have a negative effect on workshops. 

The workshop was conducted with 15 designers from frog, part of Capgemini Invent. The goal of this workshop was to use the insights from my interviews in a workshop and see how they would influence the workshop. A second goal was to use the insights and experiences of these designers and discuss their thoughts on facilitation. 

An important point to stress is that the participants of this workshop were not aware of the goal of the workshop. They were aware that I wished to discuss workshops, the facilitation of non-designers, and what might make them unsuccessful. However, they did not know that I implemented factors that could influence the outcome of the workshop they were taking part in until the end of the workshop. The reason for this is that I wanted the reaction and behavior of the participants to be natural and not affected by the goal I had. 

During the workshop with the frog designer we conducted roleplay where we played out a workshop with one group of facilitators, one group of participants who were excited to take part in the workshop, and lastly one group of participants who were not excited to take part in the workshop. As the participants were taking part in the workshop I implemented factors from the expert interviews to see how the frog designers would react to it.

Examples of this were:
- Creating problem definitions they could not relate to.
- Facilitate the workshop in a room that was too small for the amount of participants.
- Not be clear about the goal of the workshop and what we were doing.
- Give them too little time to finish their tasks.
- And not giving any information prior to the workshop.

As predicted the factors used to have a negative effect on the workshop did have a big impact on the outcome of the workshop and the engagement and interest shown by the participants.


Research Outcome
After conducting expert interviews (card sorting and the 'build your workshop' method) and the workshop the next step was to analyse and sort the research outcome. To do this I used the KJ method. The outcome of my research was divided into 5 overarching topics.

1. Planning the workshop
2. Who are your participants?
3. What will they do?
4. The workshop space
5. The facilitator


Planning the workshop

Having a clearly defined goal and strategy is crucial when planning a workshop. However, it is equally significant to be adaptable and prepare for the possibility that discussions and activities can run longer than expected or in a different direction from what you had anticipated. It can be helpful to create goals within your main goal for the workshop. The main focus when defining a goal should be what you plan to leave the workshop with. Creating goals can additionally include creating success criteria for yourself as a facilitator. 

When defining a problem statement, the most important aspect is not how relatable it is to the participants, but rather that the participants understand the problem definition and have something to contribute to the workshop topic. In addition to this, it can be crucial that the participants of your workshop see the value in the project and the work they are putting into it. According to a meta-analysis of the effects of meaningful employment “[…] people with meaningful work feel better and work better” (Anchor et al., 2018, p. 515). And this is often the case for participants taking part in your workshop as well. 

An additional recommendation is to keep the problem statement visible at all times during your workshop, in case your participants need a reminder. 


Who are your participants?

The importance of a cross-functional team or group of participants depended on the goal and topic of the workshop. However, within organizations, there are several benefits to cross-functional teams, diversity, and combining experienced and inexperienced employees. 

Including experienced participants in your workshop is not crucial for the success of your workshop. However, it can be beneficial to include participants with different levels of experience, as they may exchange their varied expertise with one another and bring new perspectives and experiences to the table. A benefit of combining participants with different experiences is knowledge transfer, which is argued to be increasingly important in organizations. Organizations that are able to transfer knowledge effectively from one unit to another are more productive and more likely to survive than those that are less adept at knowledge transfer (Argote et al., 2000, p. 1). This is the case for cross-functional teams as well, as they tend to learn more about other disciplines and more quickly pick up new technical and professional abilities (Parker, 1994, p.50). In addition to this, combining individuals from various backgrounds, orientations, cultural beliefs, and preferences, assist in increasing the organization's creative ability and are more likely to concentrate company resources on meeting consumer needs. 

Co-creative workshops have the potential to be an open and safe platform for diverse and cross-functional teams to build connections and innovate in a space with less pressure from organizational goals. However, for this to happen, I believe it is important for the facilitator to have factors such as cross-functionality, experience, and diversity in mind and reflect on how to nurture the relationship and collaboration between the participants. 


What will your participants do?

It is recommended to use methods in your workshop that are within the comfort zone of your participants and rather focus on ways of enabling them in sharing and using their competencies and knowledge. You do not need to push your participants past their comfort zone. You have to facilitate and meet your participants at their individual levels of creativity. And most importantly, sometimes your participants' insights based on their knowledge and experiences can be more than good enough (Sanders & Stappers, 2008, p. 12). 

University of San Diego (2022), recommends providing structure to a discussion. This includes choosing a dialogue process, either with a client or on your own. Additionally, they recommend beginning with an icebreaker of some kind, as this might aid participants in immediately getting involved in addressing the topic at hand. It is recommended for the facilitator to conduct an icebreaker that meets the needs of the workshop and the participants taking part in it, and this can be individual based on the goal of the workshop and who the participants are. When the participants do not know each other the goal of the icebreaker should be to make the participants comfortable with each other and the situation and to get them into a creative headspace. However, on the occasions when the participants already know each other and are comfortable in a workshop setting, the goal of an icebreaker should be to put the participants into a creative and focused mindset for the workshop. An additional suggestion is to implement topics and features from the workshop into the icebreaker, as well as contexts that the participants can recognize or relate to. Moreover, you might lose goodwill from your participants if you make them wait through monotonous material or partake in ineffective activities (Hunt & Fitzpatrick, 2019, p.3). 

When facilitating a discussion, it is suggested to structure the discussion in a way where all the participants are involved and have the same amount of contribution and value to the discussion. In workshops, there are often some participants who are less vocal than others, however, this does not necessarily mean that they do not have anything to contribute with. And it is the job of the facilitator to create a space for them where they get to contribute their point of view as well. 

Additionally, it is important to keep in mind that individuals have different ways of working and processing information. Therefore, it can be important to facilitate for participants who enjoy verbal and fast-paced methods, as well as participants who enjoy taking their time to reflect individually before sharing with the group. In addition to different ways of working, individuals might have different ways of understanding and reflecting on different topics. In these instances, the interviewees suggest focusing on aligning and building empathy. Even though we might have different points of view and ways of understanding a concept it is important to understand their point of view and where it might come from. It is argued that “a group cannot do its best thinking if the members don’t understand one another.”  


The Workshop Space

When choosing and putting together a workshop space it is suggested to create anatmosphere where the participants feel calm, focused, inspired, and safe. Additionally, one of thebigger challenges when facilitating is a crowded workshop room. Limited space can result in lessproductivity and participants being overwhelmed and struggling to speak their minds. Moreover, it isargued that individuals do have unfavorable psychological, social, and bodily reactions to crowdedspaces.

When positioning the participants in the workshop space, it is recommended to place them in a waywhere everyone can see each other and easily communicate. The impact of sight on the interactionbetween participants who could see each other was more effective than participants who cannot seeeach other (Boyle et al., 1994, p. 15). Additionally, finding and keeping common ground is morechallenging if the participants cannot see each other. If possible it is recommended to use colors likegreen and blue in the workshop room as they are posited to be relaxing, produce stable and calmaction, and encourage an inward focus (Goldstein, 1942).

In a workshop, snacks, and beverages are regarded as underrated factors in relation to the success ofworkshops. Even though most of us are aware of the impact nutrition has on our general well-being,health, and concentration at work, this factor is often forgotten or not prioritized by the facilitators ofco-creative workshops. Lack of nutrition at work might negatively influence cognition, showing signssuch as trouble focusing, lack of attention, difficulties thinking clearly, poor or delayed decision making, and generalized inefficiency. Many can experience a feeling of inability to complete tasks at work due to inadequate nutrition, for instance, lack of focus, decreased efficiency, or less tolerance and patience in discussions (Lemaire et al., 2011, p. 3). Several facilitators recommend including beverages and snacks as part of the workshop, either as part of the workshop invitation or as part of the icebreaker.

It is argued that the biggest challenges in online meetings happen primarily in already established connections, as it is experienced as difficult to maintain and add value to strategic clients. A reason for this was that the social and emotional factors in the relationship were challenging in an online environment. Further, the private community that occurs in physical meetings does not take place in online meetings (Munksgaard & Freytag, 2023). In addition to this, it is argued that it is important tofind ways to make the participants in a workshop feel connected to each other. Philosopher Axel Honneth (2021) argues that moral-practical philosophy has been greatly influenced by the idea of recognition, and a fundamental step in recognition is to be seen. Further, he argues that recognition is a physical act and that it shows itself as a body gesture from one person to another. And this is something we cannot achieve in digital workshops.

However, there are several possibilities for developing relations online, such as break-out rooms,videos, music, images, and presentations. Another benefit, in addition to the wide variety ofpossibilities, is the inclusion of a wide variety of stakeholders. By facilitating meetings and workshops online, there is an increase in participation, interaction, and engagement between participants fromdifferent functions and departments within an organization. This might strengthen the relationshipbetween employees who normally would not interact, due to working in different locations,departments, or functions. In addition to this, the flexibility of participating from wherever you arecan potentially create a more personal relationship with co-workers or clients, due to the personallocation the meeting is attended from.


The Facilitator

It is the facilitator's responsibility to support and encourage every participant’s best thinking. Toachieve this, the facilitator cultivates shared accountability, fosters active participation, and advancesunderstanding amongst participants. By achieving this, a facilitator encourages group members tolook for inclusive solutions and create lasting agreements (Kaner, 2014, p. 32).

A number of scholars suggest that the facilitator's supporting position, the overarching objective of increasing group effectiveness, focus on influencing the process, and neutrality towards both persons and material. However, they also argue that the present theoretical explanation of the facilitator's function is limited and there are many unresolved questions. However, the interviewees from this research argue that there are different sides to how and when you should stay neutral as a facilitator.When it comes to how you treat your participants, there is a unison opinion that you should not give certain participants more room or treat them differently than your other participants. It is also crucial to avoid letting our biases and opinions get in the way of reaching the goal of the workshop.

An additional factor to keep in mind is your role in the workshop. It is argued that the facilitator's neutrality enables them to act as a third party rather than a team member (Kaner et al., 2014).However, there are instances where the role of the facilitator is to consult and in these instances, there is often an expectancy from the client that you provide your expertise or with on the matter at hand. Long-term a dynamic like this, can enable consultants to make use of the information learned about the client, their business, and their users, which helps encourage the creation of suitable design solutions (Bruce and Docherty, 1993, p. 421). When facilitating a workshop, it can be crucial to define your role and how it can enable or disable you and your participants in reaching the goal of the workshop.

Facilitating a good workshop can be challenging, as there are numerous factors to keep in mind bothwhen planning and executing a workshop. And it is argued that it can be beneficial to have asupporting second facilitator. This facilitator might take care of managing time and progress anddocumenting the workshop, and it can be beneficial if there is a high number of participants presentat the workshop. Having someone else take care of matters like these can take pressure and stress offthe facilitator who presents activities and discuss with the participants.

It is recommended to have a second facilitator manage the time of the activities in the workshop, aswell as the overall duration of the workshop. When participants take the time to take part in yourworkshop in their busy everyday life, it is crucial to have respect for their time. Therefore, being ontime is regarded as an important factor in the participants' experience of your workshop.

When facilitating a workshop on your own, it is beneficial to be present in the discussions andactivities that take place. However, it can be challenging to simultaneously remember everything thatis being said. Therefore, it is regarded as important to record the workshop, and this is a task that canbe challenging to manage alone. When documenting a workshop, it is important to reflect on how theparticipants might respond to being photographed or recorded. It can be beneficial to find ways tomake this as natural and non-disturbing as possible.


As designers, we are always striving for relevancy at our workplace. For the last decades designers and researchers have gotten more critical roles within an organisation. We have finally earned that “seat at the table” where the big decisions are made. However, as Lauren Celenza (2023) argues in her article for Fast Company, this pursuit of relevance has also produced settings where competitiveness and self-promotion have taken over as the prevailing factors. And I wonder if this focus on gaining and deserving a seat at the table distracts us from what is really important. Our hands are often tied by budgets, working for our relevancy, and endless discussions about why we do what we do. And I believe a solution to include non-designers into our world of research and design has been to invite our co-workers, our clients, and our users to co-creative workshops. This way they feel like they are part of the process and feel some kind of ownership to the end result.

There is no specific way to ensure a successful co-creative workshop. And what a successful workshop means should be defined by the facilitator, the clients, or the organisation. And the criteria for success depends on factors such as the organisation, the client, the user, and the project. However, there are indeed several points and factors to take into consideration when planning a co-creative workshop. I believe it can be beneficial to bridge the gap between designers and non-designers.Saying this, I do not argue that non-designers should become designers. However, I believe we as designer can facilitate for more empathy and understanding between ourselves and our coworkers, both designers and non-designers. And there is a possibility that co-creative workshops might be a platform where these discussions can be had.

And finally, everything should have a purpose that is clear to your participants. If the workshop does not have a clear goal and adds value somehow, then why are you facilitating a workshop?


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