Publication by Miro about the future of distributed teamwork

How to run a virtual design thinking workshop in Miro

February 10, 2021

Since the dawn of time—when humans were still living in caves—we’ve been solving life’s problems through innovation. Back then, we invented fire and hunting spears. Today, we create things like portable toasters and wireless headphone translators to meet our needs.

As a product designer, I’ve learned that great design comes down to one important thing: listening. I practice the principles of design thinking to solve problems in a human-centric way. What is this design method and how can you use it with your remote team? Keep reading for my top tips.

Juan Real

Lead Product Designer at Miro

Juan Real is a designer with experience building and scaling startups at Founders Factory Africa, reinventing Linux software distribution as UX Lead at Canonical, and leading design at ROLI, an innovative music startup.

What is design thinking?

Simply put, design thinking is a method for understanding customer challenges and finding creative solutions. This is done through activities like gathering customer insights, framing and reframing the problem, unconstrained ideation, prototyping, and iterative testing. The end result? Products that customers (and your bottom line) will love.

Introduced in the ’50s by John E. Arnold and popularized in the ’80s by the design and consulting firm IDEO, this approach transformed the design industry. In the last 15 years, design thinking has been used across many industries and big brands like Dell, BCG, IBM, Airbnb, and Google.

Ultimately, the process helps teams:

  • Empathize and make informed decisions based on a deep understanding of user needs
  • Improve their problem-solving, co-creation, and collaboration skills
  • Break down silos by co-creating with experts throughout the organization
  • Learn to embrace failure and apply learnings to future decisions

Tackle any problem in five stages

No matter what problem you’re trying to solve, the design thinking process can be broken down into five distinct stages:

  1. Empathize: Deeply understand your audience.
  2. Define: Clearly articulate a problem statement.
  3. Ideate: Brainstorm solutions. Dream big and get creative!
  4. Prototype: Narrow things down by prioritizing on the best ideas, then build what you need to put it to the test.
  5. Test: Put your ideas in front of real users and iterate.

Don’t worry—no one’s meant to tackle all of this alone. You’ll want to gather a diverse team of experts and put your heads together, especially for the Define and Ideate stages. How do you do this with a remote team? Enter: the virtual design thinking workshop.

How do you run a virtual design thinking workshop?

Professional facilitators traditionally conduct design thinking workshops with in-person teams (and lots of sticky notes!). But with practice and the right tools, anyone can run a successful design thinking workshop—even while fully remote.

1. Find your why

Before you send any Google Calendar invites, think about why you want to run a workshop in the first place. What problem do you want to solve? What’s keeping you up at night? Perhaps you want more people to sign up for or engage with your product. Turn this into a question for your team to ponder in the Define stage (e.g., How can we boost our sign-up rate?).

2. Start with empathy

Think of yourself as a detective—you want to gather every piece of information you know about your audience to crack the case. Are your customers millennial rideshare drivers, overworked parents, or tech-shy business owners? How do they interact with your product or service? What are their pain points?

The user persona and empathy map templates can help you deeply empathize with the people you’re trying to help. Do you have survey data, interviews, or relevant stats that might give your team even more context? Track it all down and add it to a Miro board. Remember: the more context your team has, the quicker they will arrive at a solution.

Get on your users’ level and truly understand their needs with the empathy map template

3. Assemble your dream team

Now it’s time to recruit the team that will work with you along your design thinking journey. Aim for a diverse group. Leveraging knowledge from different disciplines like engineering, product, design, and the executive team will lead to more informed decisions. If you can, involve people that attempted to solve the problem (e.g., low sign-up rate) before so you can build on past learnings and save time.

4. Plan your agenda carefully

There’s no one-size-fits-all agenda for design thinking. You could follow the well-known Design Sprint approach, which races through each stage in five days, or spend a full day defining the problem and then brainstorming asynchronously. How you approach each stage depends on your unique needs and resources.

Whatever you do, be conscious of people’s energy levels—especially with remote teams! Breaks are essential. A good rule of thumb is to plan five to 10-minute breaks after every hour of activity. The more intense the activity, the longer the break should be.

5. Prep your board in advance

The world is your oyster with Miro’s infinite canvas, but it can also be hard to know where to start. Use frames and any of the templates in this post to create space for each activity. Add plenty of sticky notes to the board for each participant, and consider using a Parking Lot for questions or action items that may come up during the session.

Also, make sure you test every single piece of technology ahead of time, especially if you’re planning to use a video conferencing tool and breakout rooms. For more inspiration, read our tips for how to organize your board for a streamlined workshop.

6. Prep your team

Once your board is ready to go, it’s time to get your team prepped. Consider sending an email with instructions to prepare for the session with any pre-reading materials or required exercises. You may want to send out a warm-up exercise to help people get comfortable using Miro, especially for participants who are new to the tool.

To get people comfortable with using Miro, try sending this warm-up exercise by Kim Howe

7. Break the ice (ice, baby)

Creativity is like a muscle—it needs to be stretched before it gets used. Try a short icebreaker before moving into ideation activities. Check out Miroverse for tons of icebreaker ideas. Icebreakers also help people get comfortable with each other, especially if they’ve never worked together before.

If anyone wanders away and can’t find their way back to the group, bring everyone to you or ask participants to follow you as you move around the board.

The Faces in Magical Places icebreaker by Abracademy will spark people’s imaginations before diving into the workshop

8. Define the real problem

Now that you have everyone in the same room, it’s time to get specific about the problem you’re trying to solve. Take the sign-ups example. Your data shows that conversion rates are less than ideal—but why?

Get your team up to speed by sharing everything you learned in the Empathize stage, then ask: what is the real problem? This will become the focus of your entire workshop so spend a few hours brainstorming and refining a problem statement (e.g., The mobile sign-up experience is too long.) Try out the 5-Whys analysis template to get an idea of the root causes of a problem, or go even deeper with this Problem Statement workshop by the Design Sprint Academy.

Hone in on your design challenge with the Problem Statement Workshop by Design Sprint Academy

9. Brainstorm creative solutions

How can you solve the problem you’ve just uncovered? Let your team’s imagination run wild! There are no “wrong” ideas in the Ideate stage. There are also many different ways to brainstorm.

Engineers might find mind mapping more logical while others might prefer brainwriting, a great activity for connecting abstract ideas as a sequence of sentences. Visual thinkers might like to wireframe or sketch out their ideas, or provide a step-by-step description using this storyboarding template. Explore different ways to brainstorm as a team and see what works best!

Use the brainwriting template to generate and improve on ideas through quiet, written ideation

10. Vote for the best idea

Once you have tons of ideas on the board, it’s time to choose the best one. Give everyone the chance to choose their favorite using the voting app, then consider whether the winning idea is feasible—can you test it with real users? What will success look like? If the idea holds up under pressure, your team is ready to move to the Prototype phase.

11. Prepare your prototype

End your workshop by discussing how your team will prototype and test your idea. How you build your prototype (and how much you build) completely depends on your resources and the nature of your product. You might assign a small group to create wireframes directly in Miro or another prototyping tool.

After the workshop, send out a clear outline of next steps, as well as who is responsible for each action item. Design thinking workshops can be exhausting and require a lot of creative energy, so providing a summary of the workshop (and who’s accountable for what) can make life easier for your team.

12. Gather feedback and iterate

Now it’s time to put your prototype to the test! For best results, make sure your test subjects match the audience you empathized with in the beginning. Try Welcome Max’s User Feedback Workshop template, Syncier’s Usability Testing template, or Laura Yarrow’s User Research Observation template in Miroverse to collect and organize your team’s observations.

Finally, schedule a follow-up group session to go over the results and decide where you can iterate and improve. Keep prototyping and testing until you create the most viable and valuable solution possible.

Gather valuable user feedback with Laura Yarrow’s User Research Observation template in Miroverse

You’ve got this!

A design thinking session requires a lot of preparation and engagement from the participants but it definitely pays off! Miro has a huge variety of features to help make your workshop successful. Learn more expert tips for facilitators on our blog or take a course at Miro Academy.

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