Design Thinking Ideation @cornell_tech

On Thursday, March 19, a team of new Design Thinkers

Ale, Yannis, Oliver, Me and Ben set out to share the fundamentals of Design Thinking.

The Challenge?

How might we rethink HOW PEOPLE SAVE MONEY to make it easier for people to save a portion of each paycheck TOWARD RETIREMENT?

The challenge was inspired from OpenIDEO Challenge: How might we use the power of communities to financially empower those who need it most?

We invited our diverse group of friends from various disciplines to team-up and brainstorm by Design Thinking.

Hmm, What is Design Thinking?


If I had to describe it in one word, its Human-Centred. But its much more than that

a collaborative process by which the designer’s sensibilities and methods are employed to match people’s needs with what is technically feasible and a viable business strategy

Still confused? Let’s try and learn from one of the leaders in this discipline

Let me say it again, in case you missed it. It is a problem solving approach that starts with humans and makes you get out of your comfort zone. It is about thinking by building instead of thinking and then build.

Unlike engineering/managerial way of problem solving where we are looking for one optimal solution to rule them all.


Design thinking is an iterative + collaborative process that encourages innovation by participation. I highly recommend Tim Brown’s book Change by Design


We thought of many different ways to facilitate the learning process.

Key points were

Since it was a 3 hour fast paced session. We focused on the essential parts of the Design thinking process — Empathy, Ideation and Prototype

We wanted to demonstrate the right way and the wrong way of doing it. This is something important we learnt as part of our Design Thinking course

We wanted to keep it crisp and time-bound, to keep the energy going.

For the time allocation and organization of the workshop. We took inspiration from The Gift-Giving Project, the design crash course at Stanford

We did rehearsals and allocated flexible roles(even a D.Jai as music is the soul of any fun human endeavour)


Introduction to Design Thinking

Here as you can see, we began by explaining what design thinking is. We used the following video as a brief introduction.

We then explained the different stages of the process from Empathy, Defining problem, brainstorming to prototyping , testing and iterating.

We explained how the process is about getting your hands dirty, how its about prototyping and learning by failure.

Empathy by Cross-Interview (20 mins)

As we discussed during the preparatory sessions. We focused on the importance of empathy and interviews. How to build rapport and trust during the interviews. How the interviews should not ask Yes/No questions but more Why questions to dig-deeper.

Ale and Oliver demonstrating the right approach

Instead of giving an imaginary interview we wanted the participants to experience it themselves and so we paired the participants for interviews.

Recording Observations, Defining problem(15 mins)

After the interviews, we gave the participants some time to reframe the problem. To reflect on their findings and understand the needs of their partners and look for contradictions. Then the participants sketched 5 radical ways to meet the their user’s(partner) needs.

Ideation (15 mins)

We first demonstrated how to generate ideas and note observations as a team during brainstorm.

Then we divided the pair of participants into two groups with each partner in a different group.

We encouraged individuals in each group to share their findings and vote the most interesting finding.

With the help of upbeat, energetic music throughout the room, we got everyone on their feet ready to brainstorm and generate radical ideas

Prototyping and Skit(20 mins)

Time for some crazy prototypes


We explained prototyping as a fast, low-res, iterative process. We explained the purpose of a skit was to show the prototype. How a skit should be self explanatory. We just let the creativity flow after that!

The teams described their user and the context, followed by the skit. After the teams prototyped we realised we had some pretty cool solutions.

One team came up with an application that would help user to save in a more disciplined manner. The app transfers an equivalent small amount the user would have spend on a luxury directly towards the retirement fund. The app is interactive and takes away the friction of saving from economical efforts.

The other team came up with another super interesting idea to have a community of skilled professionals called “Masters”. The community would support the members during unforeseen economic hardships for their retirement future by providing opportunities for their extensive experiences.


What the participants learnt?

Found the Design thinking framework new and refreshing. Participants felt more room to be creative and explore unconventional directions.

Participants believed in each other as a team and their potential to make real impact on the financial empowerment front.

They wished their previous employment could have used Design thinking. Would like to do it in next companies

What we as facilitators learnt?

Participants found the session fast-paced. Wished they had more time!

By sharing what we learnt, we got to experience design thinking from a different perspective. Felt we got a deeper insight into the subtleties of the process.

Initially we were skeptical the session would be overwhelming and we may not be able to demonstrate the value of design thinking and what the whole process looks like. The feedback we got was super positive and it was a greatly rewarding experience for all.


This amazing learning experience would not have been possible without the support and guidance of our sensei.

Toddi Gutner

Mark Brudzinski

We would also like to thank our participants

Daniel Levine

Eleni Efstathiadis

Paul Lewis

Lorena Ramos

Image Source:

  1. SpongeBob Squarepants
  2. The one ring
  3. Winnie the pooh
  4. Boston Dynamic’s Big Dog