This past summer I had the honor being a summer “maker” at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University, commonly known as the d.school. The d.school is a non-degree offering program that focuses on teaching design thinking to graduate students. As part of the d.school’s outreach, the faculty members devote a portion of their time to teaching design thinking to executives and K-12 teachers. While at the d.school this past summer, I spent a majority of my time helping with the K-12 Laboratory.
What is Design Thinking?
Design thinking is a methodology invented by the world-renowned design firm, IDEO. Design thinking in a nut-shell is a human centered approach to building products and solutions. Design thinking can also be considered the cross-section of critical and creative thinking, because it combines empathy and analysis. Design thinking is broken into five distinct parts for teaching purposes: empathy, define, ideate, prototype, and test. The purpose of design thinking is to create a meaningful impact on the end user. The beauty of design thinking is that it is applicable to almost every problem.
Design thinking begins with gaining “empathy.” The result of design thinking process is heavily based on having a strong empathy phase. Empathy is the process of gaining knowledge of the user and how they interact with their environment. At the core of empathy is immersing yourself in the experience of your potential user. You need to step into the shoes of user to get a feel for what they need. Furthermore, it is essential to understand the user and how this person feels about current solutions. Understanding how the users feel is at the heart of creating the ideal product. By the end of the empathy phase you should have a multitude of observations that will be refined in the “define” phase.
Most design thinkers would say the “define” phase is the most essential to creating the optimal product/solution. The essence of the “define” phase is the ability to sort through the qualitative data created during the empathy phase by making a quantitative judgements. “Define” begins by creating an ideal user. This user should be a composite of the different observations that you made during the “empathy” phase. After creating this ideal user, you should move to making a user statement, which includes the user, need, and insight. This will then lead you to rephrasing the user profile into a “how might we” question. Theses questions will transition you into the “ideating” phase.
“Ideating” is like brainstorming on steroids! With the “how might we” questions from the define phase, you can begin brainstorming various solutions. All solutions are encouraged, no matter how crazy they may seem. After the energy toward a question has died, you should move to a different question. The question acts as a way to frame the solution. After you have brainstormed an excessive number of solutions, you can begin to narrow them based on certain criteria, such as what would be the most cost-effective or what would have the greatest impact. The solutions that are best suited for solving the problem will become self-evident. The solutions that are most suitable will move into the prototype phase.
The goal of prototyping is to create a quick version of the solutions that were created during ideate. These prototypes are meant to be rough, usually made of things like straws and popsicle sticks. The goal of prototyping is not to have a perfect design, but instead to show one part of the overall design. For example, if you are designing a new chair, you could just make the way that the back feels, instead of the whole chair. With the prototypes that you made during the prototype phase, you can move into testing you solution.
The test phase is essentially the same process as empathy, but with a new wrinkle. This wrinkle is that you are going out into the field to gain user feedback on your product. During test, you need to remove yourself from all biases and focus on how the user interacts with the product/solution. This means that your goal is to gain honest feedback. Testing often uncovers underlying insights that might have been missed during the empathy phase. With the feedback from testing you can move back to define, ideate, or prototype. The fluidity of design thinking helps to make it an extremely intriguing process.
It is not easy to become a great design thinker, but it is definitely possible. This large process can seem daunting even to someone who is familiar with the topic. The key is to break the process into chunks, focusing on the step at hand. By taking the process one step at a time, you will eventually become more confident with the process. The only requirement to being a great design thinker is having an open mind. By being open-minded, you will be able to hone in vital information in processes liked empathy and ideating. You will learn how to look at the world through a completely different lens. Most of all you will learn how to overcome any challenges that arise.
Over the five weeks at the d.school I partook in many activities. The main focus of the five weeks was preparing for the design thinking teacher workshop, which was attended by 90+ teachers from all over the country and world. The group of four other “makers” and I designed all the design challenges and handouts for the workshop. We also organized the two main design challenges. During my time at the d.school, I helped coach three workshops and was a helper for the summer executive education course. It was an honor to work with the four other makers. I would also like to thank Rich Crandell and Adam Royalty for their fantastic leadership of the K-12 Laboratory and their guidance over the five weeks. I would also like to thank Bruce Boyd for connecting me to Rich and Adam.
It was a truly inspiring experience to be part of a community of teachers, faculty, and students, who are so motivated about creating innovation in their schools. Working with the d.school truly transformed my views on education and how to innovate in academic environment. In conclusion I would like to extend a huge “thank you” to all who I worked with over the five weeks, it was truly an honor.