Learning ‘Design Thinking’

Sep 17, 2018 · 4 min read

In this post Benas Skripka, one of our Product Designers, explains why ‘design thinking’ is a valuable tool for understanding the world’s problems and inspiring the next generation of creators.

At FutureLearn one of our values is ‘Learning Together’. That’s why myself and Tess, our Director of People and Culture, recently ran a workshop about ‘design thinking’ with a group of ambitious teenagers from around the world. The workshop formed part of the Global Social Leaders World Summit and was in collaboration with OpenIDEO.

Global Social Leaders is an organisation that offers programmes for transformational leadership experiences delivered by Future Foundations and the Wellington Leadership Institute, bringing together young people from across the world who are driven to make social change on a global scale.

The workshop included activities to help young aspiring social leaders learn about the importance of design thinking, how it works and why it’s a useful innovation framework.

In this post, I will explain the value of design thinking and why it’s important to introduce young creators and designers to this methodology. If you want to learn more about design thinking, take a look at this short course we have on FutureLearn: Get Started with Agile and Design Thinking.

What is design thinking?

Design thinking is a human-centered approach for solving problems using practical, creative and innovative methods. It brings together what is desirable from a human point-of-view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable.

This method can transform the way different organizations develop products and services, or how they optimise their processes, and feeds into their overall strategy. The design thinking process has various stages including: defining the problem, researching, forming ideas, prototyping and testing. These steps can occur simultaneously and be repeated.

Design thinking process illustrated.

Designers at FutureLearn regularly use design thinking in our product teams. Learning is something very personal, therefore a human-centred approach can help to improve and tailor our learning experience to everyone. We conduct interviews with users and survey people to make informed decisions on how to constantly improve and iterate on our platform.

Teaching design thinking

The day started off with some coffees and an introductory talk about design thinking. The presentation kept it simple and emphasised the main points of iteration and taking a human-centered approach. Learning something new — let alone a design methodology — is no easy task. However ‘learning by doing’ is often easier, which is why we quickly kicked-off the workshop to go through the design thinking process with some light-touch activities.

The first activity (as per the design thinking framework) was doing research. Participants shared their personal experiences from around the world, inspiring others with stories about social issues in their regions and countries. The activity resulted in a ‘persona’, which is a template for describing a person; it lists characteristics, background, and likes and dislikes.

Armed with the persona and the knowledge of what the user ‘looks like’ it was time to think of a single problem to solve. This meant entering the defining stage of the design thinking process, meaning loads of sticky notes on the table, grouping problems together and eventually drafting one statement to describe the problem.

Workshop group table covered with ideas.

After a well deserved lunch break, the team kicked off the exciting ideation session. This time the participants were instructed to do ‘silent 8s’ — an activity where everyone around the table starts drawing and scribbles out 8 ideas each. The silence provides time to think and ensures everyone is heard, instead of a rowdy brainstorming session.

The ideation session resulted in lots of great ideas, but there was only room for one! So the teams had to vote on their favourite idea to develop — this sparked some profound and energetic discussions. Each team then created a rough storyboard showing what the idea might look like. The session finished with everyone taking home their ideas to further iterate on.

What did I learn?

It’s always surprising how many great ideas design thinking can help to generate. With the session lasting just the afternoon, the participants came up with a number of ideas to tackle the world’s most pressing challenges, like sustainability, gender equality and quality of education — these are not easy challenges to solve, but the teenagers in the workshop made a fantastic start with thoughtful and scalable ideas.

The mix of different cultural backgrounds created an environment where people could learn from and share divergent views. These differences sparked debates that helped everyone think about global issues from a fresh perspective.

Design thinking is for everyone

FutureLearn’s mission is to transform access to education, so Tess and I were happy to share our expertise with young people from around the world. Design thinking is a valuable tool for innovation that puts humans at the centre, and teaching this methodology to young aspiring social leaders uncovered some really interesting insights and provoked many amazing ideas in a short timeframe.

Want to see what design thinking could do for you? Take a flexible short course on FutureLearn: Get Started with Agile and Design Thinking.

If you’re interested in joining the team, we’re currently hiring for several roles, which you can see on our jobs page.


Transforming Access to Education


FutureLearn’s mission is to transform access to education. Find out how our data scientists, engineers, designers, and people do that every single day.


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Changing millions of lives with online learning at futurelearn.com. On here talking about building digital products, coding, education and more.


FutureLearn’s mission is to transform access to education. Find out how our data scientists, engineers, designers, and people do that every single day.

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