Design Thinking: Not Just For Designers (Part 2)

And how you can introduce design thinking to your entire organization in a fun, hands-on way

Written by: Pearl Chen

As explored in Part 1 of this article, design thinking shouldn’t be constrained to your design team. With the help of materials from the Stanford d.school, Connected introduced design thinking to everyone during one of our regular Lunch & Learn events with great results. If you would like to do the same for your company or classroom, running a design thinking workshop is easier than you think.

Find a co-facilitator and partner in crime

At Connected, we pair program so it made sense to pair present. The d.school also recommends having two facilitators:

One to take lead (concentrating on communicating the instructions, logistics, and timing), and the other person to provide color (communicating the nuances, offering encouragement, and providing helpful tips).
Jacky, my co-facilitator extraordinaire

Do a dry-run

If you have never experienced the d.school’s design thinking crash course first hand, run through the Gift-Giving Course with yourself and your co-facilitator.

  1. Download and print off 2 copies of the dgift worksheet.
  2. Also download and print off 2 copies of the facilitator playbook.
  3. Spend 5–10 minutes skimming through the facilitator playbook so you can orientate yourself with the steps. It’s not important at this point to retain everything from it.
  4. Set aside a minimum of 90 minutes with your partner. Book a meeting room. Grab pens and/or markers so you can work through the worksheets together. Bring a laptop.
  5. When ready, go to the Virtual Crash Course Video. The embedded video is 80 minutes long. There is a short, 2 minute pre-amble (and a 5 minute wrapup at the end) but the video is essentially a recording from an actual workshop.
  6. Hit play on the video and follow along with your partner!

Decide on which crash course variation to run

After going through the Gift-Giving course yourself, you can decide if you want to use the standard Gift-Giving course, or choose a variation. I personally feel like the wallet variation is more “concrete” for people to grasp but they both have their merits.

You can even choose a different object than a wallet but keep in mind your audience and the short timeframe — if it’s too complex, you’re going to lose people right off the bat. Make the object to design relatable, accessible, and meaningful.

Book the time

Book off a minimum of 90 minutes — or, if you can get it, a full 2 hour block — for everyone to participate.

At Connected we have regular, catered Lunch & Learn sessions so we booked our design thinking workshop during this time. Send out a meeting invite to make sure everyone feels welcome, no matter what their background is. Here’s ours:

“Design thinking” is not just for designers! Design thinking is a methodology to help you understand people, their motives, and creatively brainstorm solutions to their problems.
In this lunch and learn, Pearl and Jacky will lead Connected through a 90 minute introductory crash course on design thinking. It’ll be fast-paced, hands-on, and involve pipe cleaners, construction paper, and lots of scotch tape.
No design experience required.

In hindsight, I didn’t fully factor in the time for eating so timing was tight and we had to drop the pipe cleaner part. If I had to do this again, I would book the hands-on component for 11:00am-12:30pm and have lunch served afterwards.

PowerPoint optional

If you’re running this workshop with a smaller group (under 10–20 participants) you can get away without a slide deck. However, I’ve found that once the group gets bigger, it is good to have something up on the screen to avoid confusion since participants will be more spread out and may not hear all the talking points from the facilitators.

For example, before diving into Step 1 of the worksheet, we showed and discussed this slide:

The slide visually shows them what page of the worksheet they should be on, how long the activity is, and (if they are at loss for words) example questions they can ask their partner to keep the conversation moving.

It would have been a nice touch to have a countdown timer on this same slide but we instead ran Google Timer on a second laptop in full-screen mode at the front of the room so we could have our slides always up on the projector screen. If you don’t have a spare laptop, an iPad running a big timer app would work just as well.

Edit the worksheets (if needed)

If you have Adobe Acrobat, you can edit the supplied worksheet. Since we only had an hour, we decided to shave 1 minute off each step and wanted to avoid confusion by making sure the handouts matched the new timing.

The d.school offers an editable version but I couldn’t figure it out. 
¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Instead, I used Adobe Acrobat to edit the times in the original worksheet. It complained about missing fonts so I also downloaded and installed the Neutra Text font to my computer to make my edits look seamless.

If you do not have Acrobat software, make your edits the old fashioned way: white out.

Gather prototyping materials

If you have the time to spare to do the physical prototyping step, raid your office supply locker for pens and markers. Go to a dollar store to get other inexpensive prototyping materials such as construction paper, pipe cleaners, scotch tape, and scissors. (If you’re short on budget, your participants may be able to bring things from home.)

Construction paper, scissors, and scotch tape is enough to get started making wallet prototypes.

Print out worksheets

Print out and staple enough worksheets for each participant. The “collate” option for your printer is your friend in this step. You will feel like you’re killing the environment but nothing beats pen and paper for speed.

Set up audio cues

If it’s a group bigger than 10 people, a microphone is recommended — as is a gong or whistle. Once the pairs start talking to each other, it can get VERY LOUD. Since this is a time-boxed activity, you need a way to get everyone’s attention once time is up.

Speakers for playing music is also great for setting the mood. We hooked up speakers directly to a phone playing an “upbeat indie” playlist.

Recap: Have fun!

The d.school design thinking crash course is actually one of my favourite workshops to run. As a facilitator, I do very little talking or presenting, yet it has huge lasting impact.

There is so much supporting material available to make sure it’s a success and it’s very accessible to run regardless of whether your full-time title is “designer” or not. Try it out in your company to break down silos between functional teams. Try it out with your clients so you can better communicate and collaborate with them.

The world can only benefit from more thoughtfully designed products.

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Pearl works in developer relations and is currently an internal training consultant at Connected. She likes to mix coding, hardware, design, and education together. Bonus if food is involved!

Thanks to Jacky Li, maia.rowan , and Clara Lomas for editing.


Connected Lab is a product innovation and delivery firm. Our mission is to build better products. We are digital natives and have helped ship some of the most disruptive products of the last decade.