What is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking, as a process, exists in many different forms all over the world. Engineers use a detailed form of the design thinking process to tackle professional issues and identify areas for future growth. Businesses use design thinking to solve social, entrepeneurial, and financial issues. Designers use design thinking to create new, inspired products for a wide variety of end users.

At Trail Ridge, and throughout the Skyline feeder system in SVVSD, we utilize the Stanford d.school's version of the design thinking process (see graphic below). The steps align seamlessly with project-based classroom instruction and the rigorous Common Core State Standards shifts. The process is helping our teachers transform the way their students interact with academic content on a daily basis.

The Design Thinking process provides a framework through which designers (such as our middle school students) can productively and proactively define and solve problems in the world around them. It inspires creativity, innovation, open-mindedness, and deeper understanding of social and societal issues.

During the empathy phase, students learn to put themselves in the shoes of their 'user' in an attempt to fully understand the other person's situation. Students interview the user with a specific emphasis on uncovering the 'why' behind certain emotions or circumstances. Asking open-ended, non-judgmental questions is a pivotal technique during this phase.
Development of empathy helps not only during the design process, but also in expanding social-emotional intelligence, which will benefit students for a lifetime.
After interviewing their user and gaining an understanding of their point of view, students define an area of need, usually through the development of a needs statement. Students are encouraged to synthesize the information they learned during the empathy phase in order to distill their insights into one or two specific needs.
When designers ideate, the goal is to accumulate as many bold, interesting, innovative, crazy ideas quickly. Students capture all ideas, and are taught to reserve all judgment or concern until after ideation is over. In the end, they vote for the 2 or 3 ideas that they are most excited about and want to move forward with.
A prototype can take many forms. As a model representing solutions developed during the ideate phase, the prototype can be a process, a physcial sample, a working model, or a verbal presentation. Rapid prototyping involves many iterations, or versions, where students receive and incorporate feedback in order to perfect their solution.
As mentioned in the prototyping phase, feedback incorporates the end user's input as guidance for further iteration and revision. Students not only learn to integrate constructive feedback into their work, but also how to emotionally withstand constructive criticism of their thinking. This helps develop character and prepare students for coaching and improvement in any professional role they choose for their future.