4 drivers for a successful remote Designathon

The current pandemic has inspired us to take the Designathon, one of our most successful workshop formats, and adapt it to a remote setting. Doing so made sure we could continue the inspiring work with our partners and clients, regardless of the location and local restrictions. Working between Tokyo and Berlin, remote work was nothing new to us. But we deliberately took the opportunity to completely rethink our designathon approach and fine-tune it to a remote setting. This way we make sure to successfully guide our participants towards great results.

The goal of a Designathon remains the same in a remote setting: tackle a product challenge as a team, drive decision-making by prototyping a solution and test it with end-users within four days!

But what elements need special attention when everyone attends from their homes?

Warm Ups that create context

As designers we know that warm-ups are always crucial in a physical setting, of course. However, in a remote Designathon, they are essential to uplift the mood and to bring the team closer together. We're always on the hunt for new and fun warm-up inspirations, and we love the collection put together by mural here.

We had excellent experiences with a mesmerising and yet simple one: we asked participants to take one item from the table they were sitting at and to tell a short story about it. This method helped us to gain a better contextual understanding of the person we are interacting with. Another related activity which also conveys a participants’ context is something quickly done during lunch break: go for a walk, take pictures from your surroundings and share them with the team afterwards.

Do as much offline as possible

When working on a digital product, asking to do activities offline sounds a bit ironic actually. But some activities are done more efficiently offline than with a computer. As Dan Roam mentions in his book The Back of the Napkin, “The pen is mightier than the mouse”. It sometimes just makes sense to use good old pen and paper. During the Designathon participants use the idea napkin framework to conceptualise ideas before prototyping them. We encourage participants to use pen and paper to sketch their ideas out, take pictures of their results and upload them on a digital whiteboard to share them with the team.

Another thing to keep in mind is how important breaks are. We recommend taking short breaks after 60 to 90 minutes of activity time. This helps keep the spirits high during the workshop!

Using an intuitive digital whiteboard

We are big fans of Miro. However, we have been using Whimsical for quite some time, especially for creating user flows or wireframes. When putting it to the test, we realized that it also excels at remote Designations. But how does Whimsical differ from Miro? It’s the minimalistic interface 😉 It is very much reduced to the max while still offering key functionalities. With Whimsical’s contextual toolbar, the appropriate functions are always there when needed.


We once ran a workshop using Whimsical and participants had never used the tool before. They were able -almost instantaneously- to brainstorm ideas without the burden of looking for the appropriate functionality. It seemed just as simple for them as taking post-its and a pen and jotting down ideas. It was fascinating to see and it confirmed that Whimsical is powerful and yet easy to use, especially in the context of digital products and services.


Planning is key

In a physical workshop setting it is crucial to plan activities well ahead and make sure the agenda is visible for everyone in the room. Since screen time is very demanding and breaks are essential during remote Designathons, it is even more critical to have good time management. As everything feels rather abstract, participants can feel more uncertain in these distant, digital environments.

We have developed a facilitation plan that helps us meticulously outline every single activity with a proposed time. We programmed it in a way so that when modifying the duration of one exercise, all exercises below are automatically adjusted to the new timing as well. This is tremendously valuable and helps keep an eye on how much can be done in only one day of remote workshopping.

Feel free to download our facilitation plan here

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Written by

Marco Torrente


Marco Torrente


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