Tell students they are hired as a product designer. Their first job out of school is to design an ideal backpack. To help them do this, introduce the series of worksheets laid out in the Backpack Design Challenge lesson plan.
Step 1: The Most Exciting Purchase or Gift
The first worksheet asks students what is the most exciting thing they bought themselves, or were given as a gift recently.
It is really helpful with this exercise for you to share your perspective. At this step, share with them a concrete example of something that really excited you.
Make sure the thing they think of is something specific, and something they were really looking forward to. For example, a birthday present, or a holiday present, or something they’ve been wanting for months that they finally splurged on.
Step 2: Feelings About the Purchase or Gift
Students record the feelings that came up as they made the purchase or received the gift. Give students time to reflect on the emotions they felt.
The point of these two steps is to build the foundation for the design thinking exercise to come.
Our goal is for them to learn a set of skills that helps them design products and services that get their customers as excited about the thing the student is creating as the student was about the purchase or gift.
Now we will teach students to design a backpack that people get super excited about.
Ask students to describe their three “must have” features of their backpack.
Start by describing your three “must haves” and give them a few minutes to write down their three “must haves” that are unique to them.
Step 4: Draw the ideal backpack
The next step is for students to draw their ideal backpack. The point here is not beautiful artwork. The point is to visualize what the backpack with their must-have features looks lke.
Step 6: Ideal backpack reflection
Pair your students up for this step. Each student shares their drawings with their partner.
Each partner will ask lots of questions to dive deep into why their partner wanted certain features and anything else they are curious about.
Next, give students a few minutes to reflect on their partner’s backpack design. They describe what they saw and heard, how they felt about what they saw and heard, etc.
Components of the traditional design process
What should be built (start with product in mind)
How should it work / what should it look like? (functionality)
Do people love it?
Goal: build the best thing
Alternative approach: design thinking introduction
Explain to your students that what they just experienced is the traditional design process. Continue by sharing that this traditional way is not the best way to get customers excited about their product or service.
Ask them whether their partner offered to pre-order when saw other design. Was their partner so excited that they offered to give them real money? The answer will be no.
Explain that in the traditional design process, someone
decides a product they should build
figures out the functionality of their product – what are the nuts and bolts
as a last step, they launch their product and work to figure out whether people love it
For your students to design something that gets people truly excited, they need to understand the design thinking process.
The design thinking process has five steps to create products people get really excited about:
Talk to your students about the difference between the traditional design process and the design thinking process. In the traditional design approach, they start with thinking about the product they’re going to build.
In the design thinking process, they start with no product in mind. Instead, they start by understanding the customer’s emotional needs. In other words, what motives them on emotional level? This is the empathizing stage
If the goal is to build something people love, empathizing should be the first step in the process not the third step.
Step 7: Design something useful
Now that they are inspired to design something people want, pair students up again. Students interview the partner they previously worked with for 4 minutes each.
It is important here to tell them to forget about the backpack. They are taking a design thinking approach, so they don’t know what the “right” thing to build is. They learn what their partner really loves and why, so they can design something these customers truly want.
The goal of this interview is to find out what’s the hardest part about being a student, how they felt, when they felt that way, and why it’s a problem.
Step 8: Dig deeper
Students then conduct another 4-minute interview with their partner. The difference is, this time they
What feelings arise for their partner when they have the problem they described before
Have they done anything to try and solve that problem
Students next will define the problem their partner mentioned. They will
Synthesize data obtained from partner interview
Answer 3 questions
What goals is their partner trying to achieve?
What did they learn about their partner’s motivation
What is the partner point of view: [partner name] needs a way to [verb] because [problem to solve]
This step outlines for the student a structure for the process of designing a solution that excites their partner.
Step 12: Ideate solutions
We now understand the problem. The goal here is to draw 5 different designs for alternative solutions using the new information they gathered. These designs can be anything. They don’t have to be based in reality – encourage your students to use their imagination.
Step 13: Solicit feedback
In same pairs as before, students share their new solutions with each other and provide feedback. They share with each other what do they like, what don’t they like, and why.
Students will then iterate with their partners to come up with a more ideal solution for the problem based on their partner’s feedback.
This work will likely have nothing to do with backpacks – it will relate to the biggest problems the students experience. It could be about time management, or the dining hall, or parking, or boring classes.
That’s OK – we are working to get them trying to solve real problems for their partner!
Step 14: Reflect on new design
Students now have a new design based on feedback from their partner. Now we want them to reflect on that new design.
In pairs, they will answer two questions about the design their partner developed to solve their problem:
What emotions come up with thinking about partner’s new design, and why?
More excited about partner’s original design or new design, and why?
Step 15: Compare approaches
Now you will recap everything with your students as a class. Tell them they went through two approaches to design:
Traditional design approach – their first design
Design thinking approach – their second design
They now fill out a comparison worksheet for these two approaches. First each student writes down the two different designs their partner create for them. The questions they will answer about these two designs are:
Which design are they most excited about?
Which design is more feasible?
Which design solves their partners’ problem better?
Which design would they choose?
Ask the class as a whole which design method feels more valuable. Specifically, ask them to put up the numbers of fingers representing the number of Xs they have in the Design Thinking row.
You should see an overwhelming number of students put up at least 3 fingers for the design thinking approach.
Highlight for students that this is why we do design thinking:
It is so much more powerful for creating ideas that are exciting to customers and that they want to pay for because the product actually solves their real problems.
Then, summarize for your students that they just completed the full design thinking process:
They empathized – they worked to understand their customer’s problems
They defined the problem – they gathered all the information they learned from their customer & now understand the problem that customer experiences
They then ideated on solutions for that problem – they developed multiple potential solutions for the problem their customer was experiencing
They prototyped products to solve the problem – here they would develop something that a user could actually interact with
Last, they tested their prototype – they solicited feedback from their customer to learn what appealed to them and what did not
The design thinking process is iterative. Students went through it once during this exercise. After testing, they can start again by empathizing with their customer based on their new product.
This approach is powerful because it will help your students work on solving problems that real customers actually experience.
After this exercise is a great place to segway into your syllabus and the topics you will cover and experiences students will have. You can connect this experience to the rest of your course by highlighting they will now be able to:
Understand a wide range of customer needs
Defining the problem
Iterating on a solution to that problem
Designing prototypes of that solution
Testing how customers feel about that solution
Get the “Backpack Design Challenge” Lesson Plan
We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “Backpack Design Challenge” exercise to walk you and your students through the process step-by-step.
It’s free for any/all entrepreneurship teachers. Please feel free to share it.
All we ask is that you leave us some feedback on it in the comments below so we can improve it!
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