Taking Design Thinking from the Classroom into the Real World

Products by Women
Oct 12 · 9 min read

We’ve all been there.

You’re sitting in a class, listening to an hour (or, in some cases, 3 hour) long lecture. Your eyes are telling you to take a rest, just lean back and doze off. But every time your chin hits your chest, you realize you’re in class and need to stay awake.

So you try your best to stay attentive while contemplating when you’ll ever use the knowledge you’re learning in this “Linear Algebra 100” class, or whatever that class was for you during school.

It’s a fact that school can be dry and it may be hard to understand while in school how this is going to apply after graduation.

In reality, not every course is going to apply directly to your career or post-grad life. However, when it clicks, and something you learned in a course directly impacts your career, that’s when the magic happens.

Luckily enough, I and my co-founders took a design thinking course during our time at Queen’s University, and it truly came in handy when developing our business venture, BinoBooks, which develops customizable e-storybooks that facilitate conversations between parents and their young children on hard-to-explain topics. If you are interested, you can find us on Instagram @hellobinobooks.

Danielle Baxter

Origin Story

During late April 2020, myself and two Queen’s University students, Sydney Terry and Jess Dassanayake, decided to join the Dunin-Deshpande Queen’s Innovation Centre (DDQIC) through their SpreadInnovation program. The purpose of this program was to help participants create a business venture that solved a problem that a vulnerable population faced due to COVID-19.

We started with an optimistic mindset, but had no actual clue as to what we wanted to create during this program.

As a part of the program, we had to choose a specific vulnerable population to focus on. We contemplated a few, such as the homeless population, prison population, and parent population. We landed on parents because our team had previous work and volunteer experience with young children (#gocampcounsellors!).

Now that we knew we were focusing on the parent population, we had to figure out what problem we were going to solve for parents. At the core of every good venture is a problem that affects your target market.

This is where the e-weekend (“e” stands for entrepreneurship) in the DDQIC program came to play. During the second week of the DDQIC program, we were challenged to spend a whole weekend from Friday to Sunday creating a business venture and then pitching the business to a panel of judges.

We went into this feeling pretty confident, until it hit us we only have 72 hours to find a problem, solve that problem, and present it in a comprehensive way to the panel of judges. So, our confidence faded very quickly, and we went into #workworkwork mode.

Design thinking has many definitions; our interpretation is that it is a framework that helps to identify problems, followed by stages to create and test innovative solutions for those problems. The main goal here is creating something (a product or service) that solves a problem faced by a target market.


First, we empathized. We tried to put ourselves in the shoes of parents with young children to understand the problems that they face each day.

Since we were in the DDQIC program during the beginning of COVID-19, it wasn’t possible to go out and observe people in their natural habitat, which usually is a part of this phase in design thinking.

So, we had to get creative.

We studied the empathy map, which provides guidance on different factors you should look for when empathizing with others. For example, what’s important to the parents? What do they do? What obstacles do they face?

This is when we turned to social media, and other outlets to find ways to empathize with the parent population. Here are a few examples:

  • We observed parents and their children in Jubilee YouTube Videos.
  • We took to different social platforms, such as Reddit, Facebook, and Instagram to observe parent groups and understand what challenges they are talking about.
  • We spoke with friends and family to understand their experience working with parents and what they’ve observed.
  • From this exercise, we compiled our key observations using a Google Jamboard to understand how this parent population felt and acted during COVID-19.


Next, we had to define the problem we were working to help solve. This is where we created “How Might We” (HMW) statements.

HMW statements are short questions that help reframe a problem and create room to ideate a solution.

During the e-weekend, we were presented with a fun example involving ice cream. For example:

  • How might we design ice cream so that it can be more portable?
  • How might we design ice cream so that it doesn’t drip on your hand?
  • We took this ice cream example, and applied it to our parent population and here are a few statements we asked ourselves leading into our ideation session:
  • How might we use technology to engage young children?
  • How might we make COVID-19 easier for young children to understand?
  • How might we provide accessible resources for parents needing help?


Now, for the fun part: ideation!

Our team at BinoBooks embraces an “any idea goes” phase to the ideation session. We believe that true innovation comes from not feeling judged for proposing wild ideas. However, after ideating, we’ll bring in certain filters.

These filters will apply real-life restrictions, such as finances and politics. For example, if someone on our team says “We should donate one million dollars to each family worldwide” this isn’t something we can feasibly do, since we’re working on a student budget, so our financial filter would scrap this idea after the ideation session.

For our ideation session we set up a virtual Zoom call, and we set a timer where each of us had to write down as many sticky notes with answers to our HMW questions.

Our Jamboard was packed with several ideas. After our ideation session was over, we voted on which ideas we had a liking towards. In the image below, you can see the circles represent our votes, and we each had a maximum of three votes.

An important part of the ideation phase is testing assumptions.

Assuming is a natural aspect of being human. However, when it comes to solving a problem and building a venture, it’s important to be aware of as many assumptions you’re making about your target market or the problem/solution itself.

After ideation, we voted, and the majority of our team wanted to continue working on a personalized storybook for children and parents to start a conversion on COVID-19. So, we had to think hard about what assumptions we were making.

For instance, we thought, do kids like reading? Would parents take the time to customize a book? Do parents use books to teach their young children?

After understanding our assumptions, we fully grasped whether or not the idea was worth moving forward with, or if we needed to pivot. We decided to push forward.


Once we had our idea, a customizable e-storybook for parents and their children on tough topics, we had to test the idea. We needed to be able to communicate clearly what we’re trying to build in a simple, efficient and cost-effective way.

This is where the MVP (Minimum Viable Product) comes into play.

By definition an MVP does not need to be a working prototype, it’s a messy, quick, cheap version of what you want to build that allows your target market to provide immediate feedback. The reason why MVPs are awesome is that they help to pivot an idea without losing much time or effort on an actual working product.

For this e-weekend, we were short on time. So we thought about different ways that we could communicate our idea to a parent or guardian. This is where we found a free prototype platform online and whipped up a quick example of what the customization engine could look like at a very basic level.

We continually make efforts to improve our prototype, our first one was black and white, and very basic to communicate the idea and see if we should move forward.

Our second prototype got across a bit more of a clear idea of what the customizations could look like and how a parent would put their child in the book. Also, Canva is Queen. We rely so heavily on Canva for our business because it’s very user-friendly and allows us to bring ideas to life, quicker than if we had to learn Adobe Illustrator.


Our third prototype was more time-intensive. We used proto.io, which is a user-friendly site, but if it’s your first time using it, there can be a bit of a learning curve. So this took us a few days to build out. The nice part is that the end-user could click and be taken through an app to get a better idea of what we’re trying to build and how the customizations would apply


Finally, we needed to test the idea with our target market, parents, and guardians. Testing varies depending on the product or service.

During the e-weekend, we simply created and shared a survey to our social media asking open-ended questions about how parents we’re finding explaining COVID-19 to their kids, and what they used to explain that to their kids, or if they even mention COVID-19 to their children.

This gave us insight very quickly as to whether or not our target market is talking about this problem, it highlighted their pain points, and how we could more easily help start these hard conversations between parent and child with a customizable book.

Also, unexpected information came out of this testing phase. For instance, parents not feeling their family is represented in a book because they are a bi-racial family, or parents wanting the book to have the parental figure be an aunt instead of mom or dad.

To date, we still embrace this testing mindset with each book. We’re currently working on a body-image book, which emphasizes how cool bodies are and what they’re capable of instead of focusing on appearance.

We still use open-ended questions to survey parents who we found through social media and our school network. As well, we give an option in those surveys to jump on an empathy interview where we delve deeper into the questions to get a better understanding of the parent’s relationship with the topic.

At the end of the day, design thinking is a great framework to get started on building a venture that solves a problem, but you have to put the energy in and push yourself and your teammates to build the best possible solution.

Our team is still going strong, spending endless hours creating our first book to go to the market, and we couldn’t be happier on our journey of #buildingbinobooks and we’re so grateful for everyone who’s supported us along the way!

Team Bio:

Danielle is the CEO and brings forward her experience working at and mentoring different early-stage startups, as well as her passion for storytelling.

Jessica is the CTO, merging her degree in Computer Science and her current Master of Education studies to explore the ed-tech sector.

Sydney is the CMO, inspired by her days as a summer camp counsellor and has noticed a lack of diverse educational tools.

They are joined by high school student Samantha Dassanayake, who is the company’s Marketing Coordinator and who values diverse representation in literature.


BinoBooks Bio:

BinoBooks provides personalized e-storybooks for parents and their children. We create stories that act as conversation starters on complex, but important, topics like COVID-19, body image and more.

Have a story to tell? We are all ears! Email us at — info@productsbywomen.com!

Products by Women is a global professional network for women in innovation, tech, and beyond. The network offers women the opportunity to connect and learn from peers from around the world, find jobs beyond borders, and get matched with recruiters and mentors to accelerate their careers.

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Products by Women

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Diverse global community for women in innovation and tech

Products by Women Journal

Since its inception in 2019, Products by Women has strived to create an inclusive community that offers women to connect and learn from peers from around the world, get matched with recruiters, and network with mentors to accelerate their career.