Skip to Content
Author's profile photo Fred Verheul

Design Thinking workshop Eindhoven: lessons learned


As I’ve mentioned before on #SCN, we had started this grass roots initiative to get a 4-day long designthinking workshop going in the Netherlands, and now that it’s over I can proudly say: we pulled it off (obviously) and it was a great workshop!

We had 12 participants for the ‘Awareness Workshop’ on the first day, and 7 of them continuing for 3 more days with a more coaching focused workshop. The workshop leader was Julia Dorbic from D-Labs (watch out for more contributions from her in this space) and she was supported by her colleague and UX researcher Christina Karsten. The first day we also had the pleasure of meeting the CEO of D-Labs, Jörn Hartwig.

D-Labs team day 1.jpg

Fig 1. (from left to right): Christina, Jörn and Julia from D-Labs

First day & tips

As mentioned above, on Tue August 6th we kicked off with an Awareness Workshop in which we went through the whole design thinking cycle once, comparable with the design thinking part of sapinnojam. The 12 participants were divided into 3 groups (of 4):

Team Margreet day 1.jpg

Fig 2. (from left to right): Tom Van Doorslaer , Matthijs Wardenier, Labie Koen and Margreet Klerkx

Team Twan day 1.jpg

Fig 3. (from left to right): Hans Gmelig Meyling , Pascal Decock , Astrid Schippers and Twan van den Broek

Team Fred day 1.jpg

Fig 4. (from left to right): Robin van het Hof , Hans Verreydt , Vincent Staal and myself

We started out with the formation of the teams and doing a warming up exercise in which we did peer interviews (one on one) and tried to frame the essence of Design Thinking in our own words. A little bit of team building and getting to know each other.

This was the first thing to remember and apply in my future workshops, or TIP NR 1. It worked great. It’s probably not a coincidence that it’s also mentioned as a best practice by Heike van Geel in her excellent blog post with tips for facilitators which I hadn’t yet read 🙂 . Well, after we’d shared the peer-interviews with the whole group we were ready to start with the real content of the workshop.

To be able to work on something we had to define a challenge. Julia had collected some articles about general themes that had been in the news, and were somehow related to IT. I won’t disclose the other 2 challenges (we might want to reuse them some other time), but in the end we almost unanimously decided on the “Youth Unemployment in the EU, and the role of IT” challenge. Kudos to Julia for letting us choose from 3 possible challenges! Which leads to:

TIP NR 2: when you’re facilitating a designthinking workshop with the purpose of teaching Design Thinking itself, choose a challenge that has nothing to do with the participants’ daily jobs. Otherwise ‘expert knowledge’ might take over from learning Design Thinking, and the whole experience will be less fruitful 🙂 . It’s a tip I think I’ve read somewhere on #SCN before, and a good one!

As I already noticed we used the rest of the day to basically walk through a complete iteration of the designthinking ‘process’ as shown in the well-known picture below:


Fig 5. Design Thinking process steps

I won’t go into the details of what the different teams came up with as far as solutions and prototypes are concerned. For me, the goal of this blog post is to highlight the coaching aspect and to share some tips that I took away from this workshop.

Next days: another iteration

The second and third day we did another cycle of our challenge, this time elaborating more on the different process steps. We took a deep dive into how to create an interview guideand we did a 20 minute videotaped interview, instead of going out onto the street and asking random people about youth unemployment (like we did on Tuesday and which had its own charm).

Since there were now ‘only’ seven of us, here are the 2 teams from the last 3 days:

Team Twan day 2 etc.jpg

Fig 6. The first team, consisting of Astrid Schippers , Twan van den Broek and Pascal Decock

Team Fred day 2 etc.jpg

Fig 7. The other team, consisting of Matthijs Wardenier, myself, Robin van het Hof and Margreet Klerkx and supported by Christina Karsten

Coach the coaches

On the third and fourth day we also got individual assignments (in between the process steps): we all had to prepare a short explanation of some design thinking method and then present that method to the rest of the group as if we were the coach in a Design Thinking workshop. Of course the preferred way to do this was without the slides and to visualize it as much as possible using the flip charts or the brown paper. Using equipment like a computer or other device was totally out of the question 🙂 .

I’ll label this as TIP NR 3: Try to let the participants ‘make’ the workshop and do the presenting. As a participant you are much more active and engaged, and you’ll also get to learn more about the subject when you have to explain it to others compared to when you can just sit back and listen to the coach/facilitator.

Another benefit for us was that we gained more experience presenting stuff (something a coach must be able to do of course), and to add to that, these mini-presentations were videotaped (which I’ll label TIP NR 4), which allowed for direct and very good feedback about our presentation skills (or lack thereof).

This way we learned way more than ‘only’ Design Thinking theory, though it was of course a major part of the workshop. Thanks to the coaching angle we were also forced to think about:

  • What activities need to be done before the workshop starts?
  • What activities need to be done during the workshop?
  • What activities need to be done afterwards?
  • What are the different skills and responsibilities of a coach/facilitator?
  • How do you make an agenda for a workshop
  • How do you kick off a workshop as a coach/facilitator?
  • Etc…

Since we didn’t have enough time to finish all of this during the workshop, we even got a homework assignment, to be completed at home after the workshop. This involved creating a detailed agenda for a 2-day Design Thinking Awareness Workshop and inventing a list of post-workshop coach activities. Mind you, the agenda building was something we’d already practiced in the workshop itself, but repetition is good, especially as it’s an important aspect and responsibility of the coach/facilitator to get right. Not to forget being flexible about it!

Some more pictures (Design Thinking = visualisation)

The Space

As noted in this very recent blog post by Peter Mittemeyer having the right Space is important for a Design Thinking workshop! Well, thanks to Twan van den Broek offering us to use the company skybox at the PSV-stadium (his company Ciber apparently is a sponsor) we really had nothing to complain about. Of course we had to improvise a bit, but as far as I know that is standard procedure in a workshop 🙂 .

Inside the stadium.jpg

Fig 8. View on the field from the balcony

Outside the stadium.jpg

Fig 9. External view of the stadium

War room via qualiture.jpg

Fig 10. Panoramic view of the Ciber skybox (photo courtesy of Robin van het Hof )

Artifacts created or used

In the prototyping phase(s) we had to be creative and build/make things from the materials we had at our disposal. Here are some pics of the artifacts created during the workshop. The idea in general is to use as many natural materials as possible and not resort to e.g. powerpoint. To be honest, I’m still not sure what exactly the theoretical idea behind this is (feel free to explain it to me in the comments), but it definitely makes for more creativity and a more immersive experience (no distractions like SCN , twitter, etc).

Artifacts computer screen.jpg

Fig 11. Day 3: a computer screen 😉

Artifacts Coconut Paul.jpg

Fig 12. Day 1: ‘persona’ Paul, a Spanish school kid (the ball on the left) and some more artifacts

I also have to include one picture which emphasizes the importance of post its. We used a lot of them, and this workshop made me really value these simple pieces of colored paper. This leads me to TIP NR 5: make sure you always have enough post its! I didn’t bring enough post its on day 1 and had to go back to the shop on Wednesday morning to get us some extra supply. Did I already mention it was a grass roots initiative? 🙂

This picture should also make clear that, although it was hard work, we also had a lot of fun during these 4 days.

Hall post its fun.jpg

Fig 13. Post its galore!

Next steps

With the 7 of us being “Design Thinking junior coach” the sky is the limit of course 😎 . But seriously, as Julia had told us upfront: there’s only so much you can learn via theory or in a workshop like this. The next steps have to be: practice, practice, practice.

With that in mind I think it’s very cool that Julia, Margreet and myself have been accepted as Design Thinking coaches at sap_innojam Amsterdam, right before SAPTechEd.

Next to that Julia and myself also plan to do a short awareness workshop on the Monday of Innojam (Nov 4th), just before TechEd starts. If you’re coming to TechEd Amsterdam, don’t want to spend half of your weekend on sap_innojam and still want to experience what Design Thinking is all about, ping me or Julia! Details will be announced shortly via the usual channels.

So to wrap up: I want to thank all my fellow participants and the coaches for their input, dedication and positive spirit during these 4 days. Together we made this a wonderful experience!

Last but not least: all photos except the one of the Ciber skybox are courtesy of Julia Dorbic, made with her new camera! Thank you Julia 😎 .

Assigned Tags

      You must be Logged on to comment or reply to a post.
      Author's profile photo Tammy Powlas
      Tammy Powlas


      Thank you for taking the time to share your story and congratulations on your junior coach achievement as well.

      Great pictures and great story.


      Author's profile photo Fred Verheul
      Fred Verheul
      Blog Post Author

      Thanks Tammy,

      It was a lot of fun writing the post and reliving the experience. As for the pictures, all credit goes to Julia Dorbic . There're a lot more of them, but I couldn't show them all 🙂 .

      Cheers, Fred

      Author's profile photo Julia Dorbic
      Julia Dorbic

      Fred is an extremely enthusiastic and committed person - with this blog post he let everyone share the experiences made during the training and helps to make them more sustainable for everyone! I also re-lived the training reading his blog and couldn't have written it any better! Thank you for all of your engagement, Fred!


      Author's profile photo Robin Van Het Hof
      Robin Van Het Hof

      Great blog Fred! While reading it I was genuinely reliving the fun we had, so thanks for this well-captured recap! 😉

      Actually, I joined the course with a sense of prejudgement of 'I should know quite a lot about Design Thinking already because I attended two SAP InnoJams where we're taught about that topic'...

      Boy, was I wrong!

      I can honestly say that my whole mindset and approach to user-centric thinking has drastically, dramatically changed. And not only that, also my self-awareness "on stage" has improved significantly. I can't help noticing the things I learnt during these mere 4 days already make me a better consultant, of which my future clients can only benefit from.

      So I too would like to thank Julia and Christina for making this course such a wonderful experience!

      Oh, and on second thought, I do have one small remark to this blog though; Fred, next time you want to include a panoramic photo, make sure it's in a resolution where you can actually see what's in the picture 😛 So for my fellow visually impaired SCN members, here's a slightly bigger version of the Ciber skybox:

      Author's profile photo Fred Verheul
      Fred Verheul
      Blog Post Author

      Hey Robin,

      A truly Robin-esque comment! 🙂

      Robin van het Hof wrote:

      I can honestly say that my whole mindset and approach to user-centric thinking has drastically, dramatically changed. And not only that, also my self-awareness "on stage" has improved significantly. I can't help noticing the things I learnt during these mere 4 days already make me a better consultant, of which my future clients can only benefit from.

      The same holds for me: even if I don't get the real-life DT experience I'm aiming for, at least I'll be better off myself because of this training.

      And sorry for the picture, I didn't manage to get a better version to show up in the blog because of the limitations set by the platform (max. width etc). But could be my bad too (probably is...).

      Thanks for sharing the original!

      See you in November!

      Author's profile photo Julia Dorbic
      Julia Dorbic

      Dear Robin - thank you for your truly Robin-esque comment! Your feedback is very valuable to us, feedback and/or constructive criticism are very important for us coaches. We have to keep improving all the time, working on our skills and knowledge. Every training is a new experience we can add to our 'experience-catalog' - and a 'fascinating'-challenge at the same time 😉 .

      "I can honestly say that my whole mindset and approach to user-centric thinking has drastically, dramatically changed. And not only that, also my self-awareness "on stage" has improved significantly. I can't help noticing the things I learnt during these mere 4 days already make me a better consultant, of which my future clients can only benefit from."


      Taking what Fred has cited before, this statement(s) makes our work as coaches worthwhile. Thank you!

      Author's profile photo Simon Kemp
      Simon Kemp

      Thanks for sharing Fred! Great story and it looks like fun was had by all.

      Can you share how you went about getting this off the ground? You said it was a "grass roots" initiative, so can you share any of the steps you went through to make it happen. I am thinking this would be something cool to replicate in other regions.

      Kudos to you,


      Author's profile photo Fred Verheul
      Fred Verheul
      Blog Post Author

      Hi Simon,

      As I've partly explained here, it was largely a matter of keeping in touch after sapteched_madrid last year. I'm not sure I remember all the details, but when I learned that Twan van den Broek had also stayed in touch with Julia, it was clear we needed to get together with everyone else too, so I organized a Google Hangout call to discuss interest in the workshop (1-day or 4-days), when we'd like to have it, what an appropriate location would be, etc. And actually in that first call we already reached consensus about most of these topics.

      Afterwards Julia and her colleagues set up a solid quote with applicable conditions (min. nr. of participants, financial conditions etc), and then we just signed up, and Julia, Twan and myself tried to get more people onto the training.

      Practicalities like food, drinks etc were being taken care of by Twan because there was plenty of supply in the Ciber skybox, and Ciber was very generous about it: we could use anything we needed.

      So basically the fact that we'd met face to face in Madrid, together with a well prepared video conference call and a great location that we could use without any extra arrangements did the trick.

      Good luck with your efforts now 🙂 .

      Cheers, Fred

      Author's profile photo Tom Cenens
      Tom Cenens

      Hi Fred,

      Thanks for sharing, it sounds like you all had a great time. Nice to hear you'll also be able to put it to practice at Innojam +1

      Best regards


      Author's profile photo Fred Verheul
      Fred Verheul
      Blog Post Author

      Hi Tom,

      Thanks for the kind words. It's too bad you couldn't make it, but I've heard you had your own DT experience in Walldorf. And there will be more opportunities for sure in the future!

      See you in November!

      Cheers, Fred

      Author's profile photo Deepa Iyer
      Deepa Iyer

      Hi Fred,

      Thanks for sharing your first Design Thinking learning experience! I believe the best way to learn Design Thinking is by experiencing it.

      I would like to share my perspective on the prototyping phase -- in your blog you mention that you are not clear on why we use low fidelity materials for prototyping versus creating a PowerPoint slide deck.

      There are a few reasons why starting with low fidelity prototyping first and then moving into high fidelity prototypes works well:

      • Using materials like clay, pipecleaners, colored dots, crayons etc helps the team to visualize your ideas/solution concepts for your user to get early feedback. The goal is to test out your ideas quickly and iteratively. Powerpoint doesn't typically convey ideas and draw out honest feedback from your users and stakeholders like models and storyboards can.
      • The concept of "make-to-think" by using your hands to build your prototype can crystalize the ideas generated within each team for themselves and the users.
      • Low fidelity protoypes built using inexpensive materials and in short amounts of time will get you the right feedback that focuses on the functionality of your solution, how it helps solves your users problems as opposed to getting feedback on how it looks, the colors used etc. which should be addressed as you get closer to the final solution. This way, if your users don't think your solution will work for them, you haven't spent a lot of time, money and effort in building it and can throw it out and start over. Fail early and often!
      • Isn't it more fun and creative to build your prototypes using Legos and modeling clay than creating a Powerpoint 🙂 ?


      Author's profile photo Fred Verheul
      Fred Verheul
      Blog Post Author

      Hi Deepa,

      Thanks a lot for the thorough explanation! I'd forgotten about the 'fail early and often' mantra with regard to this aspect but of course, that's much easier with low fidelity materials.

      And yes, it sure is more fun (even for me with my 2 left hands) 🙂 .

      Cheers, Fred

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      I have found a very good explanation in Charlotte Bui's blog "

      Try, Try and Try Again – Iteration and Prototyping"

      "A prototype allows you to actively see what works and what doesn’t work along the way and provides a unique opportunity to iterate and receive feedback from others. A prototype allows you to engage all of the senses when communicating a challenge or idea; instead of simply hearing about the idea, we are able to interact with the solution and become a part of the experience.  We can see, touch, feel, and maybe even the taste the progress."

      Don't miss out on the video

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Nice one Fred, Paul is thanking you as well for the respect shown 😉

      Author's profile photo Fred Verheul
      Fred Verheul
      Blog Post Author

      Thanks Koen!

      It's a pity we didn't work together in a team during the workshop (well, there're only so many people you can work together with in 4 days), but I still feel I've made a real connection with you and the other people I missed out on (collaborating).

      And I think your day-1 prototype was very cool indeed. I know we didn't really make a competition out of it (and that's okay, I favor collaboration over competition anytime), but I'm pretty sure you'd have won with these nice artifacts and visualisations!

      Hope to meet you again at sapteched_2013 in Amsterdam!

      Cheers, Fred

      Author's profile photo Marilyn Pratt
      Marilyn Pratt

      So exciting! I'd be very interested in understanding how you created an interview guide.  I think getting the right listening, having real empathy, not being "attached" to your questions and what one may "think" are the answers to those questions is a tricky process.  I imagine that some of the best learnings come in unexpected ways and knowing how to get out of your own way as an interviewer is an art.   I'd love to hear more about how that went, especially when you were out on the street conducting real interviews...what learnings from that process, etc.  And lucky you to team with Twan van den Broek .  In the years I've know him, he's been so instrumental in supporting initiatives to "think better" be it through Agile, or Process design.  And how wonderful that Julia Dorbic officiated, taught, guided.  I do hope other participants will write about their experiences and learnings at the event.  Would it be too much to do some follow up and explicitly ask them to do so and post in this space.

      Again Kudos to you all on this fabulous and impressive "grassroots" initiative.

      Author's profile photo Robin Van Het Hof
      Robin Van Het Hof

      Actually, I think Fred already did a terrific job with his blog painting the vibe, atmosphere, learnings and genuine fun we had, which I reckon every participant would agree on.

      Nevertheless, I too would love to see more fellow participants writing down their experiences, learnings and takeaways, so more readers would probably (no, obviously!) think "hey, this Design Thinking thingy might actually be worthwhile for me too!"

      Author's profile photo Fred Verheul
      Fred Verheul
      Blog Post Author

      Hi Robin,

      Thanks for the kind words.

      You understand that Marilyn Pratt and myself are now waiting for your blog post, right? 🙂

      Cheers, Fred

      Author's profile photo Robin Van Het Hof
      Robin Van Het Hof

      I don't think there's much more I can which I haven't already expressed in my initial comment to your blog...

      But let me sleep on it, I may find a different angle which might make it worthwhile to dedicate a blog post to it 🙂

      Author's profile photo Tom Van Doorslaer
      Tom Van Doorslaer

      Oh dear, A colleague of mine had to send me a mail saying that she saw a picture of me on SCN, to make me realize that I still hadn't replied!!

      *Shame on me*

      My biggest regret of the DT session, is that I couldn't stay for the full 4 days. I only attended 1 day, but even if it were just 1 hour, it would've been worth it.

      As Robin already said, the vibe was superb. There was so much enthusiasm, such a friendly familiar atmosphere, it almost felt like joining your family on christmas (if christmas would fall in summer with 30°C)

      We actually went through a massive amount of content on that first day, but it didn't feel that way. It was always very playful and everything just flowed into eachother. there was some sort of natural learning going on.

      I really should write my own blog about it, but Fred already did a tremendous job at it. I have very little I can still add. (except maybe for the very enjoyable dinner the first evening)

      I'll put it on my todo list 🙂

      Author's profile photo Fred Verheul
      Fred Verheul
      Blog Post Author

      Hi Marilyn,

      Thanks for commenting! We were indeed very lucky to have Twan van den Broek as well as Julia Dorbic in our midst.

      Some observations regarding the interviewing part: the interviewing (and the 'design' of the interview guide) was very hard to do well. Getting people on the street to cooperate voluntarily wasn't even the hardest part. Because we had, on that first day, really rushed to get an interview guide ready, the questions were not really rooted firmly in our head yet. That made the interviews themselves a bit of a 'stumbling' experience. And the most difficult thing: how do you balance following your interview guide/questionnaire (to make sure you address all topics you want to 'discuss') with the 'in the moment' revelations that can occur and that could sidetrack you, but can also yield true insights you might not get otherwise? Typically something you must practice a lot! And we've got a long way to go 🙂 .

      Of course it would be nice to read other participants' point of view and experiences, if not about this workshop, then about other design_thinking experiences!

      Cheers, Fred

      Author's profile photo Twan van den Broek
      Twan van den Broek

      eh thanks Marilyn Pratt very honored by your remarks 😳

      Author's profile photo Julia Dorbic
      Julia Dorbic

      Hello Tom! Thank you for your feedback - is there a bigger compliment than comparing the atmosphere at a training to joining your family for christmas (given the fact that you actually enjoy that, I am sure not everyone does ;-)) Fred Verheul did an amazing job with his blog on our training, we will also talk about it at sap_teched_amsterdam in November! Looking forward to seeing you there!  

      Author's profile photo Twan van den Broek
      Twan van den Broek

      Great blog Fred Verheul, it contains experiences, tips and pictures. Looking forward to next week where sapteched_amsterdam will be packed with design_thinking as well.

      Unfortunately I was so occupied with my 'regular' job, I didn't read it before.