If you don’t think your organization is creative enough to implement design thinking, think again.

Design thinking isn’t about how good you are at design tools such as Photoshop, but rather it’s about using human elements when figuring out how to create products that addresses the real needs of people.


Using the design thinking process, everyone is a designer and design is everywhere – the way you plan out your day, the way you arrange furniture in your room, the way you match clothes. In the corporate setting, it’s important to find out and integrate the end users’ needs from the beginning, so that you don’t end up spending all your time solving the wrong problem.

As Degreed’s Project Manager Ryan Seamons pointed out on the Design Thinking webinar with Chief Learning Officer, it’s important to realize that design thinking isn’t something you tack at the end of a project, but rather, it’s a mindset. It’s the process of constantly trying to understand the user and the problem at hand.

This diagram shows you a simple framework for approaching a problem using Design Thinking:


As you can see, this framework is applicable to many types of organizations. Earlier this month, I wrote about how a design thinking program at a local high school positively impacted the students’ confidence and creativity. Here are the 4 actionable steps you can take to implement design thinking and bring its benefits to your organization:

1. Focus on the problem to solve

Companies fail to effectively solve their problems or meet their goals because they don’t correctly identify the person or problem.

Tips for identifying the problem:

  • Listen. Put yourself in other people’s shoes or problem and think from their perspectives what the problem is
  • Ask questions. What is the problem? Who is it for?
  • Have un-siloed conversations. Engage with not only one but multiple people; sit in that area and aim to understand what their life is actually like
  • Stay unbiased. Don’t impose what you think the problem is or the solution. Be open-minded and you might find something else you weren’t expecting

2. Get design thinking skills on your team

In past, ideation phase of the design thinking process were typically saved for Project Managers or Engineers, but that doesn’t mean it can only be used by that department or function. Since design thinking is the mindset of asking questions, understanding and testing, everyone has the ability to do this. Don’t worry if you don’t have the budget for a new role.

Tips for getting design thinking skills:

  • Practice the mindset. Start implementing the process in your role whenever you can. For example, if you oversee onboarding, think about ways you can test a new approach or understand the new employee mentality by getting  feedback via survey
  • Foster interests in design thinking. If you have someone on your team who wants to take initiative and expand their skillset, make sure to nurture that interest, whether it is encouraging experimentation or reimbursing them for design thinking classes

3. Have more debriefs (or start having them)

This is the part that people have the most trouble with: it’s important to understand that design thinking isn’t a one time thing, but rather it is a process of iterating on previous experiments so that the product can improve and become better. However, learnings can’t be implemented if there is no feedback process.

Tips for creating a learning culture:

  • Be open about what went wrong. Set an example that it’s okay to talk about what tests failed and use that to determine what can be better next time.
  • View failure as learnings. If one approach did not work, it narrows down the list of possible approaches and gets you closer to the approach that will work.

4. Embrace the feedback loop

The goal of design thinking isn’t perfection, but to get the best answer possible. The best answer likely won’t be the first answer; thus, there needs to be a constant loop of getting feedback and testing new assumptions.

Tips for implementing loop:

  • Test and iterate as much as possible. Find new ways and angles to test your assumptions, you might come across something you would’ve never thought of otherwise.
  • Have feedback sessions often. When you embrace feedback, not only does it create a safe space to innovate but also by talking about it, it prevents the same mistakes made again.

Design thinking can help leaders like you to identify and solve meaningful problems for your organization. Like anything new, the process is like a muscle that you need to build and use. With a design thinking mindset, you can spend time effectively on solving the right problems and building things that will impact your organization’s success – and you can start now.

How it all started

Not to be nostalgic about my education, but this is the type of high school I wished I’d gone to.

Earlier this month, I served as a panelist for Design Tech High School‘s Presentations of Learning, which is a 3 minute creative display by d.tech students that demonstrates reflection, growth & improvement in the practice of design thinking to the greater community (taken straight out of the pamphlet because I couldn’t have said it any better).

D.tech High School is incredibly unique in that it immerses students in technology, design thinking and project-based approaches in the classroom with personalized learning. Design thinking is especially prevalent throughout all the lessons, and all teachers go through training at the Stanford d.school before teaching a d.Lab class.

What exactly is design thinking and why is it so important?

Design thinking is a way of thinking that puts being human first. The process looks like this:


Notice that the first and fundamental step is empathy. You observe, ask questions, and conduct interviews to find out what the other person really needs. This is where your assumptions and biases are put aside and the listening ears come forward.

Then, you define the problem with a big picture perspective of what exactly the needs are that we’re trying to solve for, to ensure that we’re not climbing the ladder that’s leaning against the wrong wall.

With the constraints set, it’s time to ideate and use the imagination to come up with the craziest ideas in your wildest dreams that can solve the defined problem. This is where the students expressed they had the most trouble in – speaking up and not being embarrassed about their ideas.

Then you narrow down the ideas to a couple to prototype. This is where you get scrappy and mimic the product and experience of using the product. Common materials are cardboard, construction paper, post-its and popsicle sticks (my favorite).

Then you test your assumptions. When your assumptions are wrong, it doesn’t mean that it’s a failure. It only means that you’re one step closer to the right solutions, and it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

Design thinking is an ongoing process, not only in the sense that you continuously iterate but also that it doesn’t just stop at the classroom. Throughout the panel, questions were asked to encourage the students to think about how they can apply these concepts they learned from their projects in life and for the upcoming semesters.

I was amazed by the quality of the presentations, the creativity of the mediums they used and the variety of their projects ranging from animated gaming videos to organized camping trips to composition of a rap song (basically all the things that I’ve only dreamed about doing). It was incredibly high quality and almost unbelievable that there were so many young actresses, writers, comedians and musicians in the house.

An unexpected effect of learning

I was in for a bigger surprise though – the way the students described themselves before design thinking completely blew me away. Almost every one of their presentations started with “I was really shy….” and I couldn’t believe that was true when the student standing in front of me spoke with such confidence and ease.

That’s when it hit me. Design thinking doesn’t only change the way the mind thinks but it also transforms the personality. Being a part of the process led to confidence. Turns out that conducting interviews encouraged them to step out of their boundaries and speak to strangers. Working with others to define the problem facilitated collaboration and teamwork. Sharing all kinds of ideas took away the embarrassment and hesitation to voice what’s on their minds. Constantly prototyping and testing melted away the fear of failure. Having the type of environment to experience this led to more confidence.

Creating a learning environment

To sum it up, the students were encouraged to be bold. d.tech provides them with type of environment to experiment and fulfill their curiosities at their own pace. Classes also mirror this type of mindset, with minimal tests which can be retaken throughout the semester, leaving the rest of the time dedicated to learning by doing projects. Those who are at a slower pace than others get focused help on a specific topic they are having difficulties with and only move on once they understand it. Similar to pathways on Degreed where a variety of content in different formats (courses, books, videos, etc.) can be curated into a self-paced learning path to learn new skills, d.tech empowers personalized and self-directed learning.

From the transformations I saw in the students, it makes me think – what if the learning delivery method mattered just as much as the actual lesson content? What if learning was the core motivation rather than the occasional byproduct of rote memorization? What if education wasn’t only a tool to get into college and a job after graduating, but also a toolkit for life?

What would that look like? It’s some food for thought as we work together towards reinventing the future of education.