Starting with Self Care before workshops

Alastair Somerville
5 min readMar 20, 2022
3 photos of front, middle sna back of small booklet

This post is about what I’ve been designing for the first in-person workshops I’ve run in two years. I have run many online workshops and changed how I facilitate during that period. I am now transferring back what I learnt in hybrid and online into physical and in-person.

The two key things I learnt in doing workshops thru Zoom were:

  • Be explicit about content and activities
  • Take self care and autonomy more seriously

Digital environments were not good for communicating subtleties in workshop. Body language was lost. Social presence was absent. The balance between individual and group power was confused.

Zoom workshops were uncomfortable for many reasons but their lack of core humanity and humaneness was the central problem.

Being explicit was a way of ensuring people did not feel isolated and confused about what was happening. More importantly it was about placing emotion in the open. How we feel affects how we interact and learn. Digital spaces are very bad at being emotional places unless people are explicit about how they feel.

Self care was always important to me in workshops. I have started workshops with self care questions for many years. The digital-only experiences simply made the need to offer self care slightly different. People have been radically alone and together in Zoom workshops. Sharing and making together while physically apart and with many social cues missing. Self care was differently important because of this strange mix of surveillance (so many faces watching us in our rooms at home) and separation (no one with us but our pets).

For this first in-person workshop in 2022, I have been thinking about how to being what I learnt thru 2020–21 back.

This post is about just one element. The design of a pre-workshop booklet.

The booklet has been distributed to students attending a new workshop on design and Time. The booklet is part of a sequence of artefacts to Be Explicit and to take Self Care and Autonomy seriously.


Front of booklet with workshop title, content and outcomes

The front is the workshop content explanation. This is a new workshop on information architecture and Time called Design Weaving Thru Time. It is being run for a group of students on a design course.

Telling people what is going to happen is part of Being Explicit and Self Care.

Priya Parker’s The Art Of Gathering has a good part on the importance of invitations. How you invite and welcome people to a workshop affect how they act and feel.

This new workshop on ChronoDesign is an experiment together but it is not a test of individuals. Saying so matters to guide how people anticipate (positive predictions) and feel anxiety (negative predictions). Participants cannot take responsibility for their self care without some foundational knowledge about what to expect.


Self care questions and actions with text about who to contact too

The middle pages are about Self Care and Triggers. There are four self care questions. These are drawn from previous work in accessibility, emotional and visceral design. They cover some key aspects of care when in a new place doing new things with many people. At core it’s about how do you feel, here and now?

The pre-workshop booklet exists because participants need to think about these questions before they arrive in the workshop on the day.

Telling people to be aware of the self care needs and offering them some actions to take at the start of the workshop is a bit too late.

Self care should not be a surprise present. It should not be a gift that is only provided in the time and in the place that the facilitator is present.

In hybrid workshops, I have been using podcasts to deliver content before Zoom workshops. Those booklet plays a similar role. Content delivered so a person can read it and consider their actions.

This matters in the sense of Autonomy. Offering self care awareness without providing direction for action, time for personal consideration and naming responsible individuals is not enough. People must have time, resources and power to take care of themselves.


Back is helf empty for personal notes and then has three part question about personal outcomes

Finally, the back of the booklet.

Firstly, there is similar space for notes and ideas about self care. This is simple courtesy and also about passing ownership of the artefact to the participant. It is their booklet for them to consider their needs and actions.

The final question about personal outcomes is a way of linking the front page (official content and outcomes) to personal needs. This question is something I will start the workshop with (probably using a Dot voting board). I can shift how I facilitate and change what I share dependent on the self-recognised needs of the participants.

In Workshop

The pre-workshop booklet is actually a reworked version of an existing workshop card.

The table card was designed to raise awareness of self care on arrival and during workshops. I realised this was too late. This is why the booklet was made.

Autonomy can come thru awareness, action, power and time. The pre-workshop booklet added the missing sense of time.



Alastair Somerville

Sensory Design Consultant, usability researcher and workshop facilitator. Twitter @acuity_design & @visceralUX