(to get the most from The Big Idea)

In April we are running an exciting design jam for learning professionals call The Big Idea.  If you’ve seen the schedule you already know that the jam will be based on ‘Design Thinking’.  In this post I’m going to give you a brief introduction to Design Thinking so you know what to expect from The Big Idea.  Don’t worry you don’t need to be an expert!


Before we look at the definition and uses of Design Thinking you will find it useful to take a look at this trailer to a documentary on Design Thinking.  In 2.5 minutes it introduces some of the key thinkers while providing a pretty balanced view.


As usual, Wikipedia provides a useful definition of Design Thinking:

“the ability to combine empathy for the context of a problem, creativity in the generation of insights and solutions, and rationality to analyze and fit solutions to the context.”

You can see why it fits well with instructional design, where the learner sits at the heart (our context of a problem) and we use creativity to design relevant solutions.

Opinions vary on the origins of Design Thinking but the term was popularised by Rolf Faste while he was at Stanford University.  Faste’s work has been expanded and now plays a prominent role in Stanford’s Design School (known as d.school).

Stanford’s D.School

The d.school model is based on five steps that provide separate phases in which distinct activities take place.

D.school Five Step Model

Stanford University D.school Five Step Model

Five Stages   Description Other terms used for this stage.
empathise This stage sets the user (learner in our case) at the centre of the process.  The process involves observing the behaviour of users, then engaging with them through interviews or short interactions and finally experiences what your users experience. DefineDiscover
define In define mode you start to look closes at the empathy findings to identify insights and scope out the issues.  The main goal is to understand your users and their need and come up with a design statement. ResearchInterpretation
ideate Its now time to brainstorm ideas.  Design thinking encourages participants to go wild and consider even the crazy ides.  You should be thinking quantity and diversity not quality.  Its a classic ‘think outside the box’ activity. Ideate
prototype This is where it gets hands-on…ideas should now turn into some sort of reality.  This might be an object, model, storyboard, wall of post-its, sketches and even role-playing.  The process should be quick and dirty to allow multiple solutions to be explored and experienced. Prototype and chooseExperimentation
test Finally testing allows you to refine the ideas.  The best way to describe this is by quoting d.school when they say‘Prototyping as if you know you’re right, but test as if you know you’re wrong’ Implement and learnEvolution

D.school provides a range of free resources.  This includes their virtual crash course in design thinking.  This is based on a half day session to redesign ‘the gift-giving experience’.  Again the power of video gives us an opportunity to see this in action.  The video is 90 minutes long…but don’t worry you can skip forward past the sections showing people in conversation.  Watching a couple gives you a sense of the experience but it soon wears thin.

D.school also provide templates they call Mixtapes.  These mixtapes ‘help you immediately bring design thinking into your real-life challenges’.  They are definitely worth looking at!  Another useful resource is the Design Thinking for Educators web site and resources.


One of the most well-known design companies using Design Thinking is IDEO.  IDEO was founded in 1991 after four established designs firms merged.  One of those original companies was started by David Kelley after he left Stanford….you can see where this is going!

In 1999 members of IDEO redesigned a shopping trolley in five days as part of the ‘Deep Dive’ episode of ABC’s Nightline.  Part of this documentary is available below….

There is nothing like seeing a process in action to get a feel for how it works!

One of the things that particularly struck me was their mantra for innovation which we will be using at The Big Idea.  If you missed it these are:

  1. One conversation at a time
  2. Stay focused on topic
  3. Encourage wild ideas
  4. Defer judgment
  5. Build on the ideas of others

These set out clearly the principles of working together in this type of open, ideas led environment.   They provide a great shared language in which to organise discussion and could frankly be applied to any brainstorming session (sorry are we still supposed to be calling these thought showers!?).

Looks exciting doesn’t it!  Want to have a go?  Sign up for The Big Idea now to catch the £55 early bird price (ends 3rd March)

Post by: Gill Chester (1 Posts)