Yes, I’ve heard of it before - but what in the world is Design Thinking?
I generally like meeting new people a lot. As a Design Thinker however, I am always a bit scared of the compulsory get to know ‘what do you do?’-question. No, I am not a designer. And no, there is no specific field where Design Thinking is applied. And also no, Design Thinking doesn’t simply describe ONE method. To put it in one sentence, Design Thinking is user-centred innovation. Innovation, because we find ideas, that haven’t been there in this form ever before. User-centred, because in Design Thinking, we don’t try to find solutions for problems or - even worse - problems for solutions. In Design Thinking, we find ideas for (and with) people.
It’s not a method, it’s a mindset
Never tell a Design Thinker that Design Thinking is just another tool. Design Thinking is rather a mindset based on three pillars: Space, people & process.
Now, as a trainer you might have heard of these pillars before. In Design Thinking however they are closely defined:
1. Iterative Process
The Design Thinking Process includes six distinct steps (sometimes five, depending on the source) that vary between divergent and convergent thinking. The first three steps (understanding, empathizing and defining) deal with the so called problem space. During these phases we try to understand the challenge and the users, before we define a concrete point of view to work on. The last three phases (ideate, prototype and test) are in the solution space. Here, we create and build ideas and test their functionality with the users. Importantly, the process is not linear but iterative – meaning that you can (and have to!) go back to previous phases at any point to correct and improve once new findings come up.
2. Variable Space
In the School for Design Thinking, where I study, every piece of furniture stands on wheels. We rearrange the space frequently to match our present working needs. We also hype post-its! Why? Because you can rearrange and cluster them and you can use them for colour coding. We swear by being visual. As a consequence, Design Thinking spaces are colourful, chaotic on first sight and a lot of fun to work in.
3. Heterogeneous Teams
The more - the merrier. Mixing expertise, character and backgrounds is beneficial for innovation. We thus prefer to work in teams of five or six people that are as different as possible. On top of that, we REALLY do teamwork. We hardly ever split or do individual work and all decisions are done together.
So how could we use this in training?
The Design Thinking toolbox
Design Thinking cherry-picks on many tools and methods that I find super useful in training settings as well. Here are some of my favourites:
Star fish brainstorming
This is my absolutely favourite brainstorming method! The participants lay on the floor (make it cosy!) like a starfish. The facilitator takes the role of a storyteller and wraps the brainstorming question into a story. The facilitator also writes down all ideas that will pop up from the group at any time.
Creating a stakeholder charrette is a great tool for identifying problems and needs. This is a perfect tool if you work for example with the management of a company in a change process. It helps creating empathy for the employees on an individual level. Importantly here, you don’t talk about artificial people (e.g. the secretary) but rather in real personas (e.g. Leyla, mother of 3 kids).
On a meta note: I also love this tool to make sense of a Needs Assessment in the prep process of a training.
Prototyping means thinking with your hands – which is surprisingly often easier than thinking with your brain. Prototyping can be anything from drawing, building claymodels, using lego or role playing. Prototyping can be applied in various training settings. In a team work training for instance, let your participants prototype themselves and how they see their role within the team. Or, if you want to go deep, let your participants protype their emotions. In the end, talking about the built prototypes is much easier than talking about oneself.
Where can you learn more about Design Thinking?
For more information on how to create learning experiences using Design Thinking, check our webpage at learningdesign.io.
Here are furthermore some books and TED talks I recommend:
Design Thinking Pocket Guide by Robert Curedale for a quick overview about Design Thinking
Thinkertoys by Michael Michalko and The big book of creativity games by Robert Epstein provide a broad collection of methods you can implement in different learning situations.
The TEDx talk by Doug Dietz, Transforming healthcare for children and their families, depicts pretty well what is meant by user-centric design.
About the author of the article
Mara Milena Suter
Mara is currently finishing her studies at the HPI School of Design Thinking in Berlin. Besides, she freelances as a Trainer and Design Thinking Coach and realizes her own projects dealing with learning through Design Thinking through learningdesign.io.
Contact Mara via email@example.com or LinkedIn
Mirna , initiator of Trainers Toolbox, is a trainer in love with training tools and innovative games, positive psychology, NLP, and everything that makes learning more impactful and engaging.