Design Thinking Lesson in 60 Minutes

Design thinking is a skill that is arguably taught over several weeks and experiences. I was able to dig up a fantastic resource from Stanford that introduces students to the process in just a single class period. What I will share with you is not only the YouTube video that the creators recorded at a conference with educators but the slides I use to make this a simple plug-and-play activity you can do early on in any entrepreneurship class.

I use it in my social entrepreneurship course in order to introduce students to the concept of empathy and the nature of the exercise lends it well to understanding the needs of a beneficiary. However, it also works really well with the concept of customer discovery in a general entrepreneurship course.

My most successful sessions have involved me purchasing a few items from a dollar store set up on a table for students to use towards the end of the exercise. I’ve found that when shopping at the dollar store, this cost me about $25 – $30 and I’ve felt it worth it every time. The most successful sessions have involved:

  • Construction Paper
  • Glitter Glue
  • Scissors (at least 3 per student)
  • Packing Peanuts (I actually save these every time I get a shipment with them and they go in my office in a bag.)
  • Toothpicks
  • Popsicle Sticks
  • Markers
  • Tape (any kind works)
  • And if you are feeling extra, I’ll add happy face stickers, puffy stickers, and smelly markers, but it works great with just the ingredients above.

For those of you who are like me with very little patience, here is the facilitator guide:

Not only does this guide provide your prompts, but it also helps you time the session so that you can manage it in about 60 minutes. For those of you that have classes that are a bit shorter, you can simply shorten the breakout times.

The folks at Stanford also provide a participant worksheet:

I’ve used the worksheet and also simply provided my students with blank pieces of paper and both have worked extremely well. If you are like me and in a department that discourages copies, just go with a few pieces of paper for each student team.

I would advise you to let the students know that this class will be different (I actually tell the students in the class before we do the exercise so they know we are doing something hands-on).

What I’ve found is that there are two main things to keep in mind: 1. Respect the recommended times for the development of ideas and 2. Be sure that after the students construct their 3-D concepts, their partners cannot see them until the reveal.

Below are the slides I’ve used that have successfully taken through the exercise with over 30 different types of student groups (intro, social, graduate, etc.):

For an excellent overview of the exercise with faculty, I can’t recommend this video enough: https://youtu.be/pmjyZPibH14

As a final note, I would highly recommend this exercise for students that may not know each other well or are from different backgrounds. I used this in an international program (which you can see below) and it brought them together more than I could have expected in our debrief conversations. The debrief of the exercise is just as important as the exercise itself. I’ve included my debrief questions in the PDF above. I’d also encourage a picture of the students’ work because they typically put a lot of effort into the process.

Be sure to honor their work and reflect on their experience. I normally offer a reflection assignment along with this activity to assess how the students feel with the ambiguity of the exercise. What I find is that students feel more connected to each other and that is definitely something to focus on after the exercise!

As always, I’d love to hear from you on how things go or if I can ever be a thought partner with you, please feel free to reach out at: colleen@colleenrobb.com

Design Thinking Exercise: Study of the U.S. Institutes (SUSI) for Student Leaders

Leave a Reply