Design Thinking for Kids

A kids design thinking workshop at C4DLab Nairobi during the April holidays

Most of you if not all, grew up in an era where education was all about memorization of tests. We believe things like intelligence is not something we can improve with a positive attitude. As technology erupts left, right and centre, the challenges facing humanity become more sophisticated. Should we continue the same mindset and mentality while solving them?

With technology, we can almost everything we want by just a click a button away. For instance we are swiping left to get a date mate over a weekend, netflix recommends movies for, so no need to struggle with asking about a latest series. But despite of all this, there is one important thing that is still missing. Human communication and the ability to connect ideas to come to a conclusion is what technology won’t achieve for us regardless.

On the other hand, innovation is still not a valued learning objective in most schools across the world today. We see design processes being implemented for adults, but where is the design process for kids?

Photo Credits: C4DLab

Design vs Design Thinking

Design not about looks or aesthetics. Most people in this world are blinded by this fallacy and blinded with the illusion of visual appeal. Design is about how it works. Design is all about crafting new solutions from existing things to provide interactive solutions for complex problems that are facing the world. Design thinking was developed by IDEO’s founder David Kelley. He defines design thinking as “a human-centred approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” a method of problem-solving that relies on empathy, observation and careful listening.

The human aspect

We need to teach kids design thinking from an aspect of knowing that all the solutions they are providing, their users are entirely human beings. So this innovation should entirely focus on the needs of the user. Design thinking reduces the risk present in innovation by involving the users in that part ecosystem on a series of prototypes to find, test and improve concepts. By doing this, the designers focus on the mindset, attitude and behaviours of the users gained through a practical experiment, not just data. This does not mean that design thinkers discredit the existence of meaningful data. Data is key in any filed.

Key stages to help kids master design thinking


The easiest way to define empathy: is the ability to put yourself in your users' shoes. The ability to view other people’s situations from their point of view. For kids, as young as age 6, empathy might not be an easy concept for them just as it is still a difficult concept for adults too. At this age, they need to be guided in a practical aspect. Kids can be introduced to a challenge or problem that is facing particular people in society. So they have to develop or choose specific answers on how they feel will solve those problems that the citizens are going through. They have to do this, by thinking how the citizens are feeling at the moment. For example the issue of inadequate water: kids have to think from planting trees, digging wells, building dams, having pipe water or fetching water in jerricans which one might be a sustainable solution depending with the needs of that particular community.


This is one of the challenging steps in design thinking. The situation is more difficult even with the kids. How you define the challenge, determines which kind of solutions will be provided and if they will be suitable for that particular community.

One of the easiest approaches I discovered is to use How Might We? question. “How might we” (HMW) questions are short questions that launch brainstorms? An example can be, ‘How might we make education more fun and engaging?’


We can now search for methods to handle our problem not that it has been clearly defined and framed objectively. This stage can also be challenging for kids. The facilitator needs to be careful about how to handle it. There are a few rules that should be kept in mind:

  1. Don’t judge
  2. Go for quantity
  3. Always build on the ideas of others.
  4. Encourage wild or crazy imagination


According to Wikipedia, a prototype is an early sample, model, or release of a product built to test a concept or process or to act as a thing to be replicated or learned from. Prototyping brings the solutions generated into vision. This is the most fun part for kids. The facilitator or moderator has to make sure that s/he explains what prototyping is and what is its significance to this particular design process. The kids are now able to embark on creating the prototypes depending on the solutions and the materials available. Follow a simple, speedy and economical approach while prototyping.


The art of storytelling is critical at this stage. Kids share with their peers the story behind their prototypes in a compelling way. Time will be a factor depending on the context. In classrooms, they will have a maximum of 5 minutes to make the presentations. Feedback can be given or not.

I hope you have learnt something from this excerpt. This is my own personal opinion and experience learnt from the sessions I have conducted with kids. I am open to feedback or other comments.



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