top of page
  • Writer's pictureCreate&

Our HCD Fellow, Tara Pokras reflects on her 1st #DesignThinking workshop with us!

Updated: Mar 26, 2018

By Tara Pokras, Create& HCD Fellow

Picture this, over 90 individuals running around a large room playing a massive competition of the game Rock, Paper, Scissors. They start off playing against their neighbors, and as the winners move up the stakes begin to increase and tension builds up as the competition narrows down to the final two. By the end the whole room is in an uproar. People are laughing, clapping and the energy of the room has completely shifted. Unthinkable right? When you train an organization on design thinking, anything is possible.

Over the last month as Create&’s Human Centered Design Fellow, I have had the opportunity to see up close how human centered design, design thinking, and creative problem solving can work to develop innovative solutions to endless problems. A couple weeks ago, my design thinking skills were put to the test as I helped support the largest design thinking workshop I’ve ever seen.

Under the umbrella of Appleby and Associates, Create& teamed up with a supercharged team of design thinking consultants including, Chuck Appleby, Andres Marquez-Lara, and Sailu Sethia.

Gabe (CoFounder/CEO of Create&), and I along with the rest of our dynamic team led a two-day design workshop to over 90 employees of a government client during their annual retreat just outside of Washington DC. Teams were divided into three challenges all around tackling transformative service design mindsets to deliver exceptional customer service.

As we started to dive into the empathy and interviewing stage of the design thinking process. I wondered,

“How do you get 90 people to intentionally engage with users of their design challenge?” CREATIVELY, that’s how!

Through the combination of in-person, phone and online calls, teams took their carefully crafted interview guides and split up for 30 minutes to gain insights from their users needs. It was during these interviews, I started to see my teams start to lean into the ambiguity of the design thinking process and start to connect and gain empathy with their end-users.

I heard one team, listen intently as they worked to understand the users values and constraints. I observed another team, laughing with their user over the speaker phone like old friends even though they had never met, and were hundreds of miles away in a different country. Empathy is the cornerstone to great design, and it was incredible to see employees dive into this methodology of the workshop like experts.

It is through this process of empathy and connection that participants started to see a bit clearer the challenge and how they might work to solve for it.

Another part of the day, focused on guiding teams along the process of brainstorming and solution creation. The biggest challenge lay in actually getting the participants to think outside of the constraints of this government entity. We asked them to think of wild and creative ideas that were limitless.

To jump start this activity we asked them questions like:

“What if we ran like Google, what could you design?” or “What if we operated like Disney World, what type of experiences would we want to create?”

It’s only fair to say, that no matter what group you are running a design thinking workshop for, one of the biggest challenges participants will face in creating ideas around their specific design challenges is getting people to understand they have the permission to suspend reality and bring to life any out of the box ideas. This challenging piece of the workshop just proves how much design thinking and these creative problem solving frameworks are needed and work to spur innovation, especially in large groups like what we did for this government client.

Once my teams understood they had permission to go a little crazy, that is when the real juicy ideas came out. Everything from potluck-style community lunches to flying drones.

It was in this moment that I really saw the big impact we were making over the course of this two-day workshop. I think often times, whether it’s within the workplace culture, on-campus, or in society there is this notion that in order to be "successful" our thought process and actions must be scholarly in order to be taken seriously. In reality, we need to bring play and joy into all aspects of our life, including in the workplace, because it allows us to think creatively and often outside the box. It is in those moments of letting go of our rigidness that creative ideas start to develop and innovation occurs.

Final thoughts

I left this workshop on such a hopeful and happy highnote. I felt like for the first time in my human centered design training, I saw the power of what it could do in real time. That design thinking is not only a tool to help solve problems for the users, but can work to shift organizational culture and bring optimism back into the lives of the employees as well.


Create& crowdsources big ideas for social impact ventures, and trains future makers. Learn more by going to If you’re interested in being a part of our community design sprint, sign up to get notified of event details here. We’re not only looking for participants, but co-organizers, sponsors, and partners. Let us know what your needs are and we'll figure out how we might be able to help!



bottom of page