This is what design thinking will teach you

Tessa Forshaw
Jul 17, 2019 · 4 min read

This article was written by the students of Spring Design Thinking Studio 2019

Rich, Colin and I concluded our class this year with a prompt for our students; share their thoughts on what design is for a medium post about the class.

Our class, Design Thinking Studio, is a quarter-long class that helps students practice abilities central to human-centered design. Except, this quarter it had a bit of a different twist. We decided to teach Spring Design Thinking Studio without any trace of “the design process” and with a strong focus on an “explore before explain” pedagogy. This meant a complete shift from many of the activities any of us had used before. We are excited to share the student's learnings from our class experiment.

For their privacy, we have removed names and shortened it a tiny bit so that all y’all actually read it. They came up with everything else.

Happy reading.

This is what design thinking will teach you

When it started, it felt like we were back in pre-school: we had three amazing teachers, music blasted in the background while we worked in groups to do arts and crafts, and they gave us pizza. It was FUN. Soon enough, though, those same amazing teachers introduced us to their “spiral syllabus” of ambiguity. “We will start here,” they said, “and you will end up here! And that’s as much as we’re going to tell you!” Pretty ambiguous, huh?

Those of us who accepted the challenge indeed made it to the other side of the spiral, and here is what we learned:

Design isn’t a linear process. It is ambiguous. It is a collection of abilities, mindsets, moves, methods, and decisions.

Final-Year MBA Student Reflection: “Everyday, my team-mate and I would get further away from the main subject of our project. To come up with ideas we explored religions, sports, support groups, addiction, and hypnosis. This was all fun until we actually had to tie together our different experiences and come up with a targeted solution. Without design thinking moves and abilities, this would have never made sense, but now, I see the method in the madness.”

Finding meaningful human-centered insights takes intentional design work and it’s hard.

Education PhD Student: “I thought the key to data analysis was finding patterns. Now I think that finding specific, standout, surprising cases might be even more generative.”

First-Year MBA Student: “Design thinking is rooted in the actual experiences of real humans. That’s why it helps to name the people you meet — what makes them special? Where are they coming from? Where did you meet them? This helps in finding a real insight, one that isn’t obvious. It also helps to zoom in on a tension you noticed in the person, and to keep asking yourself if this is really surprising.”

Practicing the design abilities in a class isn’t just for people who want to be designers; they apply to other disciplines too.

First-Year MBA Student: “ Before taking this course, the first thing I would do to solve a conundrum was to collect relevant facts and statistical data. As a former banker who once majored in sci-tech, I had no doubt this was the right step. Design thinking was different. The first step focuses on uncovering the human attitudes and behaviors that underlie the problem, which cannot really be captured by numbers. In that sense, this course has broadened my horizon.”

Medical Student: “I used to be someone who was really good at communicating. However, once I lost my language advantage and chose a class filled with ambiguity, I suddenly found myself at a loss. Through this class, I learned to express my thoughts in every possible manner. Deliberate communication is at the heart of working together!”


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