Inject Design Thinking In Your Class
Whether starting a business, or working within a business to develop new products or services, understanding the design thinking process is a powerful tool to deliver and capture value in the marketplace.
The Wallet Project, from Stanford University’s d.school, is a fast-paced way to introduce your students to design thinking. This is a group activity (from 2 to 100+ participants) in which students rapidly do a full cycle through the design process. The project is broken down into specific steps (of a few minutes each), and students have worksheet packets that guide them. In addition, one or two facilitators (not participating in the project) prompt each step, and add verbal color and instruction. Students pair up, show and tell each other about their wallets, ideate, and make a new solution that is “useful and meaningful” to their partner.
This exercise is great because every student has an artifact (their wallet or purse) that contains so much meaning in it. You can get some really interesting information about someone just by asking about their wallet. This project also tends to yield final solution ideas that are physical, and more easily prototyped.
What Students Learn
Students get the feel of a design approach, gain some shared vocabulary, and get a taste of each design “mode” (empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test). Specifically, students learn:
- the value of engaging with real people to help them ground their design decisions,
- that low-resolutions prototypes are useful to learn from (take an iterative approach)
- to bias toward action (you can make a lot of progress in a little bit of time if you start doing).
Step 1: The Wrong Approach
“Instead of just telling you about design thinking, we want to immediately have you jump right in and experience it for yourself. We are going to do a design project for about the next hour. Ready? Let’s go!”
Give students the “Design the IDEAL Wallet” worksheet and use this timer to count down the 3 minutes.
Don’t give students any instructions here – just tell them to draw an idea for their ideal wallet. It’s important to remind them that you are not a good artist (whether you are or are not), and that they are not going to be judged at all by their artistic ability.
The intention here is to contrast an abstract problem-centric approach to a human-centered design thinking approach.
Remind students after each minute expires. After the 3 minutes expires, ask students:
“How did that feel?”
They will likely offer some emotions that are not that positive. Highlight those, and tell them “that was a typical problem-solving approach, taking on a given problem, working using your own opinions and experience to guide you, and with a solution in mind to be designed. Let’s try something else – a human-centered design thinking approach.”
Step 2: A Better Approach
Give students the “Your New Mission” worksheet and have them pair up.
Their job is to design something useful for their partner. Tell students the most important part of designing for someone is to gain empathy. Students will do this through having a conversation with their partner.
Tell students that Partner A will have 4 minutes to interview Partner B, then they will switch. Have Partner A walk Partner B through the contents of their wallet. Encourage Partner A to ask questions about when they carry a wallet, why they have particular things in there, and to make notes of things they find interesting or surprising.
Step 3: Dig Deeper
After this first set of interviews, encourage students to follow up on things they found interesting or surprising. They should dig for stories, feelings and emotions (around pictures, artifacts, etc.) Encourage students to ask “Why?” often and to let their partner talk.
Students need to understand that the wallet is a distraction, that what is important for them to discover is what is important to their partner. Remind students to make note of any unexpected discoveries and to capture quotes.
Step 4: Reframe the Problem
Give students the “Reframe the Problem” worksheet.
Have each student individually reflect for three minutes on what they learned about their partner. Tell students to synthesize their learning into two groups:
- Their partner’s goals and wishes. Students should use verbs to express these. Remind students that these should be needs related to the wallet and life, that they should think about physical and emotional needs. Give them an example of maybe their partner needing to minimize the number of things he carries, or he needs to feel like he is supporting the local community and economy.
- Any insights they discovered. Tell them they can leverage insights when creating solutions. Give them an example that they might discover their partner values purchases more when using cash to make it. Another example could be that the partner sees the wallet as a reminder and organizing system, not a carrying device.
Step 5: Take a Stand
This is where students articulate their point-of-view around which they will build solutions. Tell them to select the most compelling need and most interesting insight they gained from their partner. This statement is going to be the foundation for their design work, so encourage them to make it actionable, and exciting. Give them an example like these:
“Janice needs a way to feel she has access to all her stuff and is ready to act. Surprisingly, carrying her purse makes her feel less ready to act, not more.”
“Arthur needs a way to socialize with his friends while eating healthy, but he feels he isn’t participating if he isn’t holding a drink.”
Step 6: Sketch to Ideate
Give students the “Ideate” worksheet.
At the top, they write their problem statement. Tell them they are now creating solutions to the challenge they’ve identified. Push them that quantity is better than quality here, that they should go for volume of sketches of ideas. Remind them the goal here is idea generation, not evaluation; challenge them by saying “see if you can come up with at least 7 ideas!”
Keep telling them as each minute passes, and remind them to be visual, to not use words but to use pictures.
It is important to remind them here that they may not be designing a wallet, but that they should create solutions to the problem statement they just created.
Step 7: Share Solutions and Capture Feedback
During this step, partners share their sketches with each other for 4 minutes each. As each partner gives reactions to the sketches, the other partner should take note of any likes and dislikes, and also listen for any new insights. Remind students the goal here is not to validate their ideas, and not to explain or defend their idea. This is an opportunity to learn more about their partner’s feelings and motivations. After four minutes, students switch.
Step 8: Reflect & Generate New Solutions
Give students the “Iterate based on feedback” worksheet.
Tell students to take a moment to consider what they learned about their partner and about the solutions they generated. Using all they’ve learned, ask students to sketch a new idea. This idea can be a variation on an idea from before, or could be something entirely new. It is OK if they need to adjust their problem statement to incorporate new insights and needs they discovered in Step 7.
Encourage students to provide as much detail and color around their idea as they can. They should think about how the solution fits into their partner’s life, when and how they might handle or encounter the new solution.
**NOTE: While students are working, grab the prototyping materials.**
Step 9: Build!
Give students the “Build and test” worksheet.
Tell students the next step is to create a physical prototype of their solution. Explain they should not just make a scale model of their idea.
They should create an experience that their partner can react to.
They need to actually make something their partner can engage and interact with. Students who want to create a service will ask how they can create that. Talk about creating a scenario that allows the partner to experience it – they can use space, act it out, etc.
Push students to be quick, remind them they have only a few minutes.
Step 10: Share Your Solution & Get Feedback
Now one partner will share their prototype and collect feedback, then partners will switch roles. Tell students they are not interested in validating the prototype, but instead are interested in a targeted conversation around the experience, specifically focused on feelings and emotions. Remind students their prototype is not precious, that they cannot cherish it and should let go of it. What is valuable here is the feedback and new insights they will gain from their partner’s interaction with the prototype. Students need to watch how their partner uses and misuses the prototype. They should take note of what their partner liked and didn’t like, what questions and ideas emerged.
Step 11: Group Gather & Debrief
Create a space that all students can gather around – move tables together, clear chairs, etc.
Have everyone put their prototypes in the middle of the gathering space. Ask students
This step is important! A well facilitated reflection has the power to turn this exercise from simply a fun activity to a meaningful experience that could impact the way participants approach innovation in the future. Quickly pull together a few tables that everyone can gather around. Ask students:
- “Who had a partner who created something that you really like?”
- “Who sees something they are curious to learn more about?”
When a student is curious about a prototype, ask for the person who created the prototype and engage them in the conversation:
- “How did talking to your partner inform your design?”
- “How did testing and getting feedback impact your final design?”
- “What was the most challenging part of the process for you?”
The key to leading this conversation is to relate the activity to the following takeaways:
- Human-centered design: Empathy for the person or people you are designing for, and feedback from users, is fundamental to good design.
- Experimentation and prototyping: Prototyping is an integral part of your innovation process. A bias towards action, toward doing and making over thinking and meeting.
- Show don’t tell: Communicate your vision in an impactful and meaningful way by creating experiences and interactive visuals.
- Power of iteration: Learn, try, fail, learn more, try again, fail again, learn more, and so the cycle goes. A person’s fluency with design thinking is a function of cycles, so we challenge participants to go through as many cycles as possible—interview twice, sketch twice, and test with your partner twice. Additionally, iterating solutions many times within a project is key to successful outcomes.
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Get the “Design the Ideal Wallet” Lesson Plan
We’ve created a detailed lesson plan for the “Design the Ideal Wallet” exercise to walk you, and your students, through the process, step-by-step.
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