design thinking

Teaching Design Thinking: Putting People and Possibilities First

Here’s something to think about. What if we begin with what people want and need, and then design a business, product or service for them? The possibilities for success are endless.  

July 18,  2016

By Elaine Cole

[From Neeley Magazine Summer 2016] – In Dr. Stacy Grau’s Design Thinking Workshop, the write-on walls are full of drawings, words and sticky notes. Tables overflow with construction paper, clay, markers, scissors and glue. Students aren’t sitting down and taking notes. Instead, everyone is talking, moving, agreeing, debating and coming up with ideas they might not have thought possible.

And that’s how design thinking works. In classrooms, workshops and executive education courses, TCU Neeley is creating innovators who can tackle complex problems in their organizations by putting people first.

What is Design Thinking? Design thinking integrates the needs of people and the possibilities of technology. It is a human-centered process, and since all businesses must satisfy humans to succeed, it’s catching on fast in the business world.

Think of it this way: Instead of super-smart techies creating a new product and then wondering what to do with it, design thinking begins with the needs of people and then develops products and services to meet those needs.

“We are creating innovators, not innovations. With a framework to work through, students become better critical thinkers, more creative, more innovative and a lot more valuable to organizations,” said Grau, who studied design thinking through Stanford’s Design School.

There are five steps to the design thinking framework: empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test.

Step One: Empathize. Gather information, observe, ask questions and get to know the people for whom you are designing your service or product.

Step Two: Define. Capture those findings, look for insights and define a problem to tackle.

Step Three: Ideate. Come up with as many ideas as possible.

Step Four: Prototype. Build or draw a prototype that represents a product, service or idea.

Step Five: Test. Present your prototype to your users and listen to what they say about it. Revise, test and repeat until you have the answer.

“Design thinking is based on ethnographic research principals. It helps us really understand what people’s problems are, not what we think they are,” Grau said.

Bruce Nelson teaches design thinking for TCU Neeley Executive Education. As global strategy leader for IBM’s MobileFirst Center for Competence, he travels the globe applying design thinking for both IBM and its clients.

“It’s not just a group of highly paid consultants saying ‘You should do this.’ Design thinking is a proven industry standard for adaptive leaders in today's market. Once senior executives experience the process with us, the light bulb goes off and they gravitate to it quickly,” Nelson said.

The more exposure TCU students have to design thinking, the more it helps with recruiting for internships and full-time placements.

“If I interview a student who can talk in meaningful ways about how he or she has applied design thinking in a class or on a project, I will hire that person in an instant,” Nelson said.

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