Inside the life of a designer at SoftServe — on the bookshelves

Our go-to books for workshopping

Skipper Chong Warson
10 min readOct 18, 2023

By Glib Bero, Oleksandr Chornyi,

, Iryna Draguntseva, , and the SoftServe design center of excellence (COE)

On the bookshelf — spot illustration with physical books, e-books, and digital devices alike

With SoftServe’s design team dispersed across various locations globally, including the U.S., Ukraine, Bulgaria, Poland, Germany, Romania, the U.K., Singapore, Mexico, Colombia, and Chile, fostering effective collaboration while working remote (fully or partially) has become increasingly important. The rise of video calls, online workshops, and digital whiteboards has allowed us glimpses into our colleagues’ home and work environments, complete with human interactions, personal artifacts, plants, the occasional appearance of pets, and our bookshelves.

Inspired by this, we pondered the question: as designers, what books do we keep on our respective shelves? Whether physical or digital, displayed for aesthetic purposes, a quick reference, or some combination thereof, these hold significance and are crucial in our professional lives in understanding complex subjects.

With all that in mind, we have a list of books compiled by the SoftServe design COE generally around or related to workshopping. What follows is a list of 11 titles.

TL;DR: Amidst the ever-growing number of books on running workshops and workshop methods, and there are many good ones, it depends on whether you want a general book or one that catalogs methods. In general, we’d start with “The Workshopper Playbook” by Jonathan Courtney. For methods, we had a tie between “Universal Methods of Design by Bruce Hanington & Bella Martin and “The Jobs to Be Done Playbook” by Jim Kalbach.

Let’s get into all of them — presented below alphabetically according to the primary author’s last name.

Visual Thinking by Williemien Brand (Buy from Amazon)

“Visual Thinking” by Williemien Brand, a seasoned industrial designer before setting up BuroBRAND and BRANDbusiness design studios, doesn’t center exclusively on workshopping techniques. Still, it is a valuable companion for those looking to enhance their workshop skills. True to its subtitle, focusing on visual collaboration to empower people and organizations, Brand’s book delves into the art of conveying complex ideas visually. A standout aspect of this book lies in its practical approach, equipping readers with diverse techniques to elevate their visual thinking prowess. Incorporating real-world examples and case studies, which draw from Brand’s rich background, illustrates how visual thinking can be effectively applied across various domains. However, despite the book’s overall accessibility, it may not wholly satiate the appetites of those seeking an exhaustive exploration of the theoretical foundations of visual cognition. Nevertheless, “Visual Thinking” is a valuable resource for individuals looking to harness the potency of visual communication, ultimately sharpening their problem-solving skills and nurturing creativity.

Practical Design Discovery by Dan Brown (BookshopAmazonA Book Apart)

Dan Brown’s “Practical Design Discovery,” published in 2017, navigates readers through the often complex design discovery process, emphasizing the importance of collaboration and involving stakeholders in the discovery process while aligning with the principles of collaborative workshops. One of its standout features is its emphasis on involving stakeholders in the discovery process, fostering a shared understanding and alignment on project objectives, actionable advice, and real-world examples, making it accessible to novice and experienced designers. However, some readers may find that the book could benefit from more in-depth coverage of advanced discovery techniques and strategies. Nevertheless, the book can be a valuable resource for workshop facilitators looking to enhance their preparatory phases by conducting effective discovery work and involving workshop participants.

The Workshopper Playbook by Jonathan Courtney (Available from dedicated website)

In its concise 83 pages, Jonathan Courtney’s “The Workshopper Playbook” is a comprehensive guide that dives deep into the intricacies of conducting effective workshops. Courtney generously offers practical advice, templates, and real-world examples, empowering readers to design and facilitate workshops that produce tangible outcomes. What truly sets this book apart is its systematic, step-by-step approach, which ensures accessibility for both newcomers and seasoned workshop facilitators. Furthermore, Courtney’s unwavering emphasis on nurturing creativity and collaboration within workshop settings, a hallmark of his impressive track record at AJ&Smart, deserves commendation. It’s worth noting, however, that the book relies heavily on Courtney’s personal experiences and those of his company, AJ&Smart (where he serves as founder and CEO), potentially limiting its adaptability across diverse workshop scenarios. Nonetheless, “The Workshopper Playbook” remains an invaluable resource, empowering individuals to master the art of workshops and harness their potential for driving innovation and problem-solving.

The Workshop Survival Guide by Rob Fitzpatrick & Devin Hunt (BookshopAmazon)

Rob Fitzpatrick and Devin Hunt’s “The Workshop Survival Guide” offers a comprehensive resource with a two-part approach to enhance workshop facilitation. The book’s first half systematically guides readers through crafting workshop materials from scratch, making it especially valuable for newcomers to facilitation, demystifying the preparation process. The book’s second half provides facilitators with a valuable repository of tactical tips and hacks, equipping them with a toolkit of practical strategies to elevate their workshop delivery. This section is a goldmine of insights for facilitators at all experience levels, offering creative solutions to common workshop challenges. While its subtitle focuses on “educational workshops,” the book’s principles apply to workshops of all types. One critique is that, given its 2019 publication date, it could have included insights into online situations. Nevertheless, “The Workshop Survival Guide” is invaluable, providing facilitators with a structured approach to workshop preparation and a treasure trove of practical tactics to enhance their facilitation skills.

Gamestorming by Dave Gray & Sunni Brown (BookshopAmazonO’Reilly)

Dave Gray and Sunni Brown’s “Gamestorming” is a game-changer for anyone seeking to foster team innovation and collaboration. This dynamic book is a treasure trove of creative facilitation techniques, making it a go-to resource for designing engaging workshops, brainstorming sessions, and problem-solving activities. Its extensive collection of co-creation tools sets it apart, making it one of the most comprehensive guides available for those wanting to encourage participation and creativity. It’s a practical playbook for turning dull meetings into dynamic, productive events. However, some readers might find the sheer volume of techniques overwhelming, and navigating the extensive index of co-creation tools can take time and effort. Nonetheless, “Gamestorming” is an indispensable asset for facilitators, innovation enthusiasts, and anyone looking to elevate their collaborative efforts through interactive and engaging activities.

Universal Methods of Design by Bruce Hanington & Bella Martin (BookshopAmazon)

Having previously appeared on our list of UX research books, “Universal Methods of Design” is also a comprehensive resource for workshop facilitators seeking an extensive toolkit of design and problem-solving methods. This book covers a wide array of techniques for workshopping, making it a valuable asset for designing and structuring workshops that foster creativity and innovation. It also provides a breadth and depth of coverage, providing a wealth of options to tailor workshops for various purposes. Each method is presented with clear explanations, visual aids, and practical examples, enhancing its accessibility and usability. In short, Bruce Hanington & Bella Martin have made a versatile reference for workshop designers, offering creative techniques to inspire engaging and productive sessions.

The Workshop Book by Pamela Hamilton (Amazon)

“The Workshop Book” by Pamela Hamilton is a broad guide for anyone looking to craft and facilitate impactful workshops. With a clear and systematic approach, Hamilton takes readers through the entire workshop lifecycle, from planning and design to execution and follow-up. This book’s standout feature is its practicality, offering numerous templates, checklists, and real-world examples to assist facilitators in creating engaging and productive workshops. Hamilton, the author of “Supercharged Teams, “ strongly emphasizes adaptability, allowing facilitators to tailor workshops to their specific needs and audiences. However, some readers may find that the book’s focus on structure and process occasionally leaves less room for creativity and spontaneity, which are vital to successful workshops. Nevertheless, “The Workshop Book” is an invaluable resource for workshop facilitators, providing a robust framework and a wealth of tools to design and lead effective workshops that leave a lasting impact.

Two-Hour Workshop Blueprint by Leanne Hughes (Amazon)

While Leanne Hughes’ “Two-Hour Workshop Blueprint” is tailored explicitly for two-hour workshops, the principles and techniques presented in the book can be adapted and extended to longer workshop durations with some thoughtful modifications. Workshop facilitators looking to conduct workshops that span a full day or multiple days can use the blueprint as a foundation and then expand upon it to accommodate their needs. The book provides valuable insights into structuring content, engaging participants, and maintaining a productive workshop environment applicable to various workshops. However, facilitators should be prepared to develop additional content, activities, and strategies to keep participants engaged and achieve the workshop’s objectives over an extended duration. While the book serves as an excellent starting point for any workshop, regardless of its length, customization and augmentation will be necessary to align the session and schedule with its specific goals and the time available.

The Jobs to Be Done Playbook by Jim Kalbach (BookshopAmazonRosenfeld)

“The Jobs to Be Done Playbook” by Jim Kalbach is another book on our list that isn’t about workshopping in general but focuses in — this time on the Jobs to Be Done (JTBD) framework. Kalbach’s book is a comprehensive and actionable guide to JTBD, a powerful tool for understanding customer needs and driving innovation. It breaks down the methodology into clear, step-by-step instructions that make it accessible to beginners and experienced practitioners. One of its most commendable aspects is the abundance of real-world case studies and examples illustrating how organizations have successfully applied the JTBD approach to solve complex problems and create customer-centric solutions. Moreover, the playbook provides a wealth of exercises, templates, and techniques that empower readers to put theory into practice effectively. However, some readers might find that the book leans heavily on the practical side and doesn’t delve as deeply into the theoretical foundations of JTBD as they’d like. Nevertheless, “The Jobs to Be Done Playbook” is an indispensable resource for anyone seeking to transform their product development process and deliver products and services that genuinely address customer needs and desires.

Sprint by Jake Knapp (BookshopAmazon)

“Sprint” by Jake Knapp, published in 2016, is another book on this list that is not precisely about workshopping but drills down into the specifics of a design sprint — which has many workshop activities. This intensive process condenses down a project’s design and testing phases, as developed by Google Ventures initially, into a dynamic and practical framework for solving critical business challenges within just five days. Knapp’s book guides readers through the sprint process, from initial goal-setting and problem definition to prototyping and user testing, all while emphasizing the importance of rapid decision-making. One of its standout features is the simplicity and clarity of the sprint format, making it accessible to teams of all sizes and industries. Additionally, Knapp provides numerous real-world examples of successful sprints, showcasing how this methodology can drive innovation and problem-solving. It’s worth noting that since its publication, many organizations, including AJ&Smart, have iterated on and improved this version of the design sprint, making the design sprint a valuable resource for teams looking to accelerate their problem-solving, decision-making and product development processes, ultimately leading to more effective and user-centric solutions — and “Sprint” is the root of that. Note: look for “four day design sprint” on your favorite Internet search or input into your language model (LM) of choice.

The Secrets Of Facilitation by Michael Wilkinson (BookshopAmazon)

Michael Wilkinson’s “The Secrets Of Facilitation” is an invaluable guide for facilitators seeking to master leading productive and engaging meetings. The book is a comprehensive toolkit offering step-by-step guidance for planning, conducting, and debriefing various facilitation sessions. One of its key strengths is its systematic approach, ensuring facilitators are well-prepared to handle diverse groups and situations effectively. Wilkinson’s emphasis on group dynamics and communication fosters collaboration and trust. The book also offers a variety of practical techniques and activities that facilitators can readily implement. However, some readers may find that the book’s focus on structured facilitation only aligns with some situations, especially those requiring more flexibility and spontaneity. Nevertheless, “The Secrets Of Facilitation” is an indispensable resource for facilitators at all levels, equipping them with the skills and strategies needed to navigate complex group dynamics and achieve successful outcomes in meetings and workshops.

And that’s our list of the top 11 books for workshopping. Do you agree? Disagree? Did we miss a book that you have found to be most useful in your work? Let us know in the comments.

In a few weeks, we’ll have our next installment of what’s on our bookshelf. Stay tuned.

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Skipper Chong Warson

Leadership coach, design director at SoftServe, and host of How This Works. Formerly at thoughtbot SF, Fjord NYC, and Shep (acquired) among others.