Category Archives: design thinking

Three Tips to Get You Started in Design Thinking

School districts can sometimes feel like giant ocean liners.  They hold a lot of people, but they can take a long time to change direction.  When there are problems that need to be addressed, the process of “Design Thinking” is gaining a lot of popularity as a framework for coming up with innovative solutions.  The process is not necessarily difficult, but the work can be slow-going sometimes.  This can lead individuals, or entire teams, to believe that the process has failed – especially in a field where we want to see significant results quickly from our actions.

You can start small, or start big.  If you’re thinking about exploring “Design Thinking” as a model for approaching your next problem-solving venture, keep these three tips in mind to get the most from the experience.

Empathy.Empathy.  The best results from Design Thinking come when we spend plenty of time on activities that emphasize empathy.  Who is affected by the problem we’re trying to fix?  This step often involves lots of interviews with such people (often termed “users”, as in “users” of the system or product being redesigned), and observing them while using the current system/product.  If your proposed solutions don’t actually help anyone, why were you working on the problem in the first place?  When the Design Thinking process is working well, empathy has been allowed to shape and define our understanding of the problem.

Prepare to fail, and learn from it.  Failure is becoming something of a popular buzzword in education these days.  Reducing the stigma attached to failures is a noble cause.  When we punish failure, we rarely do so in a way that encourages students to try again.  We generally get the opposite result – students learn to stop trying.  We can’t make failure not stink.  If failure feels good, why succeed?  What we can do is cultivate an attitude of learning from failure, and not letting the prospect of failure prevent us from making the attempt.  Prototyping and the iterative process gives us a chance to try, and if that doesn’t work, to go back and try again with new understanding. [View this Stanford d.school slide deck on “Prototypes”]

Green octagon Go sign.Bias toward action.  I have a strong memory of coming out of one especially long meeting at a previous workplace.  The meeting wasn’t necessarily a productive one.  We left with no proposed solutions.  A co-worker of mine put it best when he said, “Well, we didn’t come up with a solution, but we sure admired the problem!”  Too often, we spend a lot of time admiring problems, and not taking steps to resolve it (perhaps owing to the fear of failure mentioned above).  Bias toward action doesn’t mean that we enact solutions without sufficient preparation or thought.  It means that even our closed-lab discussions are concerned primarily with, “What can we do as a result of this?”  A solution that never results in a change in practice is no solution.

Truly enacting a “Design Thinking” framework requires a shift in thinking away from supporting existing systems to supporting eventual solutions.  The results can be spectacular!

Want to know more about applying principles of Design Thinking in schools?  Check out http://www.DesignThinkingForEducators.com!

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