dschool crash course

Design Thinking with Stanford’s d.school

Recently, over a creative lunch, some willing volunteers powered through Stanford’s Crash Course in Design Thinking. Here’s a brief recap of the experience:

We absolutely blazed through all five stages of the Design Thinking process. We went from zero… to a tested prototype in just over an hour. “dSchool” defines the steps to Design Thinking as:

  1. Empathize
  2. Define
  3. Ideate
  4. Prototype
  5. Test

While these steps are listed as the official process, the facilitators suggest using them more as a way to incorporate mindfulness into approaching problems. The Design Thinking approach creates innovation using empathy and human centered design principles.

Our particular challenge in this workshop was to redesign the gift-giving experience for a single user, our partner (we worked in pairs). In the end, we all created a prototype specifically tailored toward making the use case for our partner, to improve their gift-giving experience. Here’s a quick recap of the steps:

design thinking

1) Empathize

The workshop started with some basic interviews about our most recent gift-giving experience. We took turns interviewing each other, uncovering motivations and digging into what we were really trying to accomplish as gift givers, as well as the challenges we experienced trying to meet those goals.

2) Define

We defined a single POV and problem based on our users needs (which were very different from case-to-case). We added insights which we uncovered during the original interviews to shape a problem statement. Seemed like a great place to start!

3) Ideate

We quickly sketched out some BIG RADICAL ideas and presented them back to the user for instant feedback. We refined them until we had a good direction on which concept was the strongest based on this real-time feedback loop.

4) Prototype

Each concept was brought to life using construction paper, sticky notes, and “googly” eyeballs to make an actual prototype to present to the end user.

5) Test

So in 75 minutes, we went from absolutely zero to a tested prototype! Pretty nice accomplishment.

As a facilitator of similar exercises I personally found the d.school’s Crash Course a great way to introduce people to the world of Design Thinking. It can be difficult to try to describe the experience and benefits of Design Thinking… it’s much easier to just experience it for yourself. This course does exactly that, wasting no time on definition, but instead focusing on DOING and reflecting after. Here are some of our reflections:

How did engaging with a real person change your prototype?

“I liked how it allowed you to test your assumptions in real time… it kept me from getting too invested in one idea and going too far down a single road based on just my own choices.” — Amanda, Designer-Developer

What was it like showing unfinished work to another person?

“I’m used to presenting my work and having thick skin about it…. but showing it to the user I designed it for—and not “the client”—made it a deeper experience.” — Bill, Designer

“Awful!” – Jared, Digital Strategist

How was the pace?

“I felt like I got stuck at certain points. My normal process would be to go away and think about this for a while on my own. It was uncomfortable, but maybe that’s a good thing.” — Dan, Designer-Developer

What would you do over again?

“The problem statement seemed like a big commitment so it felt like that set me on a path… but it’s all low-investment at this point so it’s very easy to change, if it’s wrong.” — Jared, Digital Strategist


design thinking e-card

Bill designed a Surprise! app for Dan that featured “googly” eyes.


We are constantly evaluating processes to become better problem solvers. If you are interested in sparking some innovation and thinking differently in your business or organization we recommend giving this free crash course a try!

If you’re ready to take the next step with this type of thinking we’d love to talk with you about ways to develop a Design Thinking agenda for your business or organization!