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The Designathon: Our favorite design workshop

A couple of years ago,Goodpatch was invited to participate in a special design workshop and competition called “Designathon18” in Zurich, Switzerland. The Designathon® is similar to a hackathon, but instead of IT specialists and computer enthusiasts coming together to tackle a given topic, designers, developers, strategists, and anyone else who can contribute to the topic, lock themselves in a room and work on a broadly defined challenge. Ever since the first edition, we’ve been an event partner, helping both facilitate and promote the weekend, while sharing our tools and design methodologies with participants.

We left the Designathon in Zurich very inspired: This format was the perfect way to package all of our different design thinking methods for adoption by our clients. After kindly asking the Designathon team if we can use their name, we went to work creating a 4-day workshop format that consolidates months of work into a single week.

Designed to make the abstract concrete and rapidly solve even the most complex challenges, we have applied this format to a range of companies, from large financial institutions

to young start-ups eager to launch their first product or service. Over the course of four days, we lead teams through the entire design thinking process and demonstrate a hands-on, structured approach to creativity and human-centered design. This process supports streamlined, strategic decision-making for the best possible solutions.

So how does it work? Following is a general breakdown of each phase of a Designathon:

The Challenge Before the Storm

It all starts with a challenge. The challenge sets the frame for the entire Designathon and gives a rough direction for the days to come. The first step of each Designathon, therefore, is to invite participants to come up with a few challenge suggestions. We then discuss, prioritize, and agree upon one formulated challenge statement. This guarantees that everyone is on the same page.

Goodpatch design workshop
Image credit: Hanna Büker

The Discover Phase: Uncover your user’s pain points

Inspiration is critical to any creative process. For this reason, we ask participants and project stakeholders to share their knowledge on the given topic by showing existing solutions or telling stories with inspirational presentations. We encourage participants to actively listen and take notes that document their “aha-moments”.

As believers in the power of human-centered design, we invite feedback from end-users even at this early stage. We interview 1–3 core users to collect qualitative data in the form of statements that we then use to make design choices early on.

Goodpatch design workshop

The Define Phase: Make the abstract concrete

“If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.’’ - Henry Ford

Users don’t know what they want. That’s why it is crucial to make connections and abstractions from the qualitative data collected. This helps you discover new patterns and surface unspoken needs and pain points.

Goodpatch design workshop
An example of how the 2x2 capture board might look

To neatly display the data, we use a 2x2 capture board and cluster the interviewee statements. The four sections can be named: pains, goals, motivation, and behaviour. Of course, you can name your sections however you need to. Teams can then synthesize the data and structure the insights in the form of user + need + insight.

Goodpatch design workshop

The Ideation Phase: Collective brainstorming leads to better ideas

The ideation phase is the fun part where the team dynamic is at its peak! Generating ideas based on brainstorming and brainwriting is highly collaborative by nature and some of our best experiences have been while generating ideas with participants.

We recommend that participants first work independently in silence and then share ideas with the group. To make the sharing even more productive, we encourage participants to use “yes and…“ to build upon existing ideas.

Goodpatch design workshop
The Idea Napkin Framework

With these newly developed ideas, we move on to our next tool called “idea napkins”. It’s a framework that sheds light on an idea and to make it more concrete.

Goodpatch design workshop

The Build Phase: Mapping user journeys, step by step

After the idea napkins have been shared and prioritized the next step is to bring these concepts to life. Here we use a structured approach where we gradually move from an abstract idea to a concrete solution.

First, we create storyboards, which describe the process a user takes to move from an existing setting (usually a problem) to a state satisfaction (solution). In the second step, the participants list all the steps the user performs during this transition. These tasks are then associated with screens and embedded into a user flow. This flow shows how a user goes through the digital solution to achieve the intended goal. It is similar to the storyboard, but in more detail and visualized via screens.

Goodpatch design workshop
Image credit: Hanna Büker

When all of the wireframes have been created, the teams create an interaction map and build connections between the screens. We useProttto make these paper-sketched wireframes interactive, allowing the team to click through, test, and improve their proposed solution.

Goodpatch design workshop

The Test Phase: Time for user testing

Interactive rapid prototyping tools such as Prott enable us to scale design so that we can be quicker in the design process and test the solution as soon as possible. We want to test the solution (prototype) with potential users so that we can include this feedback in the next iteration. In this initial exploratory user test, the solution should be realistic enough for the teams to realize any roadblocks and difficulties a user encounters.

“The solution should look real enough (like a façade) to test, but it doesn’t need to be pretty.” - J. Knapp
Goodpatch design workshop

The Final Step: High-Res Design

To turn the prototype into an even more realistic product, we give it to one of our UI designers for one more day of offsite work. We can bring the product to life using tools like Sketch and Invision. With the high-res prototype, the client is then able to create alignment among the team, test it further with potential users, or use it to communicate a story to company management or external investors for funding.

At Goodpatch, we use the Designathon to build alignment among our client’s stakeholders. The format has proved especially valuable to teams who have a new digital project coming up. After experiencing a structured approach to digital product design, teams embrace a creative work culture and are better at making decisions and creating consensus around solutions and tangible outcomes.

Let us know what you think and if you’re ready to try this with your team, give us a call! If your whole team is remote and is now digital-first, check out our blogs on how to run a perfectremote design workshop.

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Written by

Marco Torrente & Maya Guice


Marco Torrente & Maya Guice







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