Working areas should have more space than you need

Updated on Sunday, July 23, 2023

Whether your workshop runs in-person or virtual, participants need not only enough space to complete the activity, but just enough overflow space, just in case, without going overboard.

An important part of workshop design is the design of the specific working areas participants will use. These areas need constant and clear instructions, and space to complete the activity.

Crazy 8's, the sketching exercise is a good example. You fold a piece of paper in half three times to create 8 sections, and participants use those 8 sections to sketch in:

However, crazy 8's have one problem. What if your participants have one, two, or three more sketches they could do? The goal is to produce a lot of ideas and the crazy 8's page limits that approach.

In meatspace, it's easy to get more sketching space. Participants should have more paper right there to grab.

You need to have extra space available for digital workshops, as well.

You can do this two ways. If you pre-populated the activity area, you can pre-populate more working items than you need. So if you have 10 participants brainstorming for two minutes, you can have 40 pre-populated sticky notes, or you can have 60.

The below screenshot of a placemat for an in-person workshop has space for 14 separate sticky notes, and that's before you start stacking them up. Brainstorms will rarely have more than 10 sticky notes from a participant at a time and usually quite a bit fewer. This placemat has just a bit too much space.

I'm, not a fan of this approach. It takes up too much room and that messes with the zoomable area. Second, it looks awfully empty at the end of the workshop when you zoom out and you have all these empty sticky notes.

I prefer option 2, pre-populate the right amount.

And then you need some open space around the pre-populated area for that brainstorm that's just brilliantly productive. Or the discussion goes long, and you capture more than you thought you would.

In the below example, each participant has their own working area with four, pre-populated sticky notes. Their working areas have room for 2-5 additional sticky notes if they have a lot to say. And, there's enough space between each working area, that participants can add more sticky notes outside their working areas.

Two additional benefits to having more space than you need:

  1. In addition, this space doubles as a close by working area. If something new comes up, you have some blank, scratch space at hand to do something.
  2. Second, this creates good space between activity areas and helps create visual borders between areas.

Whether your workshop runs in-person or virtual, participants need not only enough space to complete the activity, but just enough overflow space, just in case, without going overboard. At the end of an activity, you want spaces to feel full and complete, not half empty. At the same time, if an activity is being really productive, you want to make sure you have enough space to accommodate the extra work.

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