Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 11.37.07 AM

Why “Design Thinking” Must be Understood

In most schools, students are taught a prescribed list of topics, and then asked to prove how much they know by responding to “one-right-answer” questions. But are these really the things a child will need to know when they become an adult?

My hypothesis is no, and my answer is to teach students skills and strategies that will allow them to take on any challenge they may face.

I came across a great article today that summarized these sentiments in it’s title:

“The future of work is imagination, creativity, and strategy.” – Joseph Pistrui

How can stop preparing our students for testing and start preparing them for success (in it’s many forms and flavors) in a real and imminent future? I thought this idea of a summer academy for design thinking would catch on fast, but it hasn’t turned out that way.


Because no one knows what design thinking is and it’s clear I am not explaining it well.

When speaking to a mom about Design Juniors, I watched her face glaze over in confusion as she struggled to grasp what my summer academy was all about. But what will my child do? She asked.

That’s a great question. There are so many awesome things a student can do with design thinking!

But in order to make my academy comprehensible, it seems I need to ground it in something. Maybe students will solve bullying at their school, or design a solution for a future without water. I’m not sure yet, but a good place to start might be simply talking to students.

This week I’ve been working on my messaging for Design Juniors by iterating on the website. If parents were going to sign up, they need a vision for what Design Juniors can offer.

It started like this:

Screen Shot 2018-01-14 at 8.23.41 PM

Then this:

Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 11.02.58 AM

Until I realized, the graphic makes no sense to anyone unfamiliar with the design thinking process.

So I changed it up:

Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 11.09.11 AM

I’m hoping a cartoon gives the signal it’s for kids, and it’s fun. However, the boy doesn’t look like he’s having fun…

So I tried this:

Screen Shot 2018-01-19 at 11.37.07 AM

But perhaps it looks too academic? The plan is to do some user-testing to settle the internal squabble.

As far as the words are concerned, I thought linking to articles and laying out a lot of information would be helpful. I even added an image of the Harvard Business Review, to signal that this is a thing for smart people.

Screen Shot 2018-01-21 at 9.00.39 PM

This page looks like a lot to digest and their isn’t clear hierarchy, so I tried it a different way.

Screen Shot 2018-01-21 at 10.06.16 PM

And lastly, created a cartoon to demonstrate the step by step process students will go through at the Design Juniors Academy.

Screen Shot 2018-01-22 at 10.00.41 AM

To be clear, I do not believe design thinking is the only way to prepare our students for the future. But I do believe it is a really excellent strategy to help students build confidence and find success. And I do believe that this type of learning should be far more pervasive in all classrooms.

Earlier this week I attended a training for teachers with a strong design thinking component to it. During the activity time, I could tell that some of the teachers were energized and confident, and that others felt very unsure of what they were supposed to be doing.

Design thinking is a fuzzy concept. How can we expect it to be taught and used as a method for learning if it’s not even well understood?

The success of our students is a truly wicked problem, and the answer doesn’t lie in just one teacher, nor any singular method. Success will be found in the ability of everyone to transcend what’s understood and actively rethink the current system.