Perhaps the most considered task of any workshop are the shapes and forms of the materials used in the room to spur lateral thinking. A roomful of people can generally stomach three group activities over the course of a day. More than that and the room is exhausted. Less than that and the room walks away unfulfilled. For each activity the stimuli has to align and promote workshop objectives. Workshops can be throttled by overcomplicated activities. And workshops can go down rabbit holes if the activities don’t have guardrails. There is a balance that needs to be achieved and assumed by the organizers and practiced before any participant walks into the room. The workshop agenda becomes the map and the more choreographed the day the better. Posters, cards, personas(or cohorts), sheets of blank paper and the ubiquitous sticky note all have their place. It is in the usage of these artifacts and their threading through the group activities that make for a successful day. They become the spine and guardrails that encourage and ground the creativity of the group. A workshop canvas, a journey map or a poster used through all activities helps frame and anchor and drives results.
I have read of many workshops that switch up activities and present each as discrete. But having done some of those myself I’ve seen how they leave the participants feeling disoriented. As you build on the backbone material – the workshop canvas for example – the narrative slowly builds and the teams feel oriented. They know the journey ahead and know what they are building to. There is a good introduction to these artifacts here on the d.school site but choosing and creating them is non-trivial. The default is the sticky note and a white board but a properly well thought out and practiced workshop canvas offers an exponentially better experience and generates more focussed and powerful results.