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Author's profile photo Alejandro Pifarre

Design Thinking workshop: the Chaplin way

When looking a Charles Chaplin film you may be tempted to think he was a fun guy improvising comic gestures. That is very far from the true. Chaplin was a very meticulous director who will rehearse and shoot a scene many times tills he got the expected results as movie director.


Although structuring and delivering a Design Thinking “inspired” workshop is not art, it

have something of a performance and it should be planned properly:

Approach: Design thinking is a quite a flexible tool, and you can mix a match different techniques, but you have to keep the process in mind. You can even skip a step, but only if you have a reason to do that. It is much more than a sequence of collaborative exercises with post-its. At the very minimum you should make a clear separation between understanding the situation and solving the challenge, and keep an organized cadence for opening and closing steps.

Flow: of course you need an agenda, and a very detailed one. But you need to think about the physical and emotional needs of the participants for managing and recharging their energy levels. Breaks are not a luxury to minimize and should be scheduled accordingly. Breaks can be also very useful to make a distinction between phases and cycles. Warm-up are a very useful tool, but avoid to insert them automatically in some slots. Leverage them for emotional tasks like having people in a working mode or encourage team collaboration.


Space: the more the better. Look around for nearby places with potential like terraces or corridors. Look for natural light, and if possible nice views. Try to diffuse the corporate look as much as possible. The dream space would be a big, high ceilings warehouse near a lake or forest. The space is the playground for the participants to interact, connect and create. And please do don’t forget food and beverages, plenty should be available at hand.

Materials: go beyond the classic: post-its, flip-charts, markers, etc. Looks for unusual stuff for surprising the attendees and you. Toys could be a good source of inspiration as far you can leverage then in the workshop flow. Remember that they have to play with a purpose, fun but meaningful.

Time: you always have to finish on time. It is much better to do less properly than rushing to complete the agenda. Focus the people attention on the critical topics that require the group mental power. Anything that could be done later at post-production should be avoided. And if they work hard and are able to finish early, just release them. It is about the quality of the outcome and no about the consumed time.

The Chaplin way is not the only viable workshop style, but it works quite well. Half, if no more, of the game is played before the workshop start.

I am looking forward to getting to know your style of preparing and running a Design Thinking workshop. Please comment on this.

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      Author's profile photo Marcus Holger Erb
      Marcus Holger Erb

      Hi Alejandro,

      I found your blog very useful and creative but there is one thing when we are talking about movies and DT in a comparison....they share in common a very detailed and precise clarification of the contract you are closing before even do a first step in planning or interaction with the participants.

      Like in a movie the outline of the whole project and the aims / targets need to be agreed and detailed enough between the Coach/ director and the client / movie producer.

      This might be also a difference between Charlie Chaplin and a design thinking coach. Charie Chaplin was actor, story writer, director and procucer in one person ==> a very special persona 😉 . I don't think that we can find this ofter in DT-Situations.



      Author's profile photo Alejandro Pifarre
      Alejandro Pifarre
      Blog Post Author

      Thanks Marcus for your comment.

      There are many things in common between performing arts and coaching. And also with sports. Interesting topics to be further explored.

      And I agree, Chaplin was a genius 😎 .