Design Thinking: It Starts with Empathy
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Design Thinking: It Starts with Empathy

7 min read
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Design thinking is a growing conversation lately and we’re all behind it here at Designer Minds. Every Club we host promotes Design Thinking in the children, but it’s not just something reserved to Clubs, Camps or formal education; It’s really great for children today to develop the right approach to learning. Children start to think in beautifully new ways, opening up this whole new realm in their minds, a realm that welcomes curiosity, empathy, creation and solutions! This is something we can focus on, nurture and encourage.

Today, even big companies like Apple and Google are investing in Design Thinking. Of course, these companies are all about innovation! They are constantly creating new ideas, ideas that nobody before has thought of. These awesome, game changing even life changing ideas are normally born from a need from the consumer.

Take Apple, for example, you can’t say Apple without saying Steve Jobs! He is a Design Thinker. At the start, he drove people crazy searching for solutions in places nobody had ever been before. Steve believed in the solutions and approach. For the iPhone, he hired psychologists to help design the user interface. He focused on craft, empathy, focus and simplicity… Now iPhones are the most user friendly phones on the market today.

So How Does This Impact Education?

Traditionally, as we know, education has a large focus on study with the the end goal being tests. Children associate reward with a correct answer. However the future is changing. We have right answers at the tip of our fingertips now… thanks Google! So the world requires problem solvers and innovators, it's crying out for more people like Steve Jobs. Individuals that can change with the fast paced technological advances and quick changing needs. This is where ‘Design Thinking’ becomes the must have skill of our time, a skill that our children can develop from when they’re just little tots at home, at school and in clubs like Designer Minds!

Where It Starts

So now that we know why Design Thinking creates massive opportunities for individuals and the communities in which they work, let's talk about what Design Thinking really is. David Kelley is an American business entrepreneur, designer, engineer and teacher and he is well known for popularizing design thinking.

He said; "Design thinking relies on the natural — and coachable — human ability to be intuitive, to recognize patterns, and to construct ideas that are emotionally meaningful as well as functional."

Design thinking made it’s lift off in business, but its growing impact is shining through in all areas of life! It cannot just be a subject in class. It is more of a methodology, a way to go about solving problems in a creative way.. Once familiar with this new approach, it can be applied to any problem in life. It's pretty simple really. No matter what problem we are trying to solve, with Design Thinking the human/user needs are at the core, shaping the solution. It starts with a question, a problem. A transportation company for example, they could easily start their question with;

“Can we create a new car.”
“But what if they started with… can we create something that will transport people from A to B.”

All of a sudden the options are broadened. Consumers don’t necessarily need a car. They need a form of transport! A car is just one solution someone once created. Design Thinkers with this question, now, are inspired to INNOVATE. (Call Elon Musk!)

So here’s how you would go about it. There are five common steps associated with Design Thinking. Empathise, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test! This becomes a cycle of consistent reiteration! Let’s dive into them a little bit more.

Empathise
Starting with empathy is really important. It puts the end user at the heart of the answer. This creates truly useful innovations. We need to care about the lives of the users. Empathy can sometimes be a difficult concept for young children to get their heads around. So we work to develop their understanding by urging them to ask questions.
- Who are you designing this for?
- What are the user’s pain points? What does the user need, what issues do they have.

So the child speaks with their mother. She has an issue… Let’s say, she has limited storage and struggles to reach a cupboard in her office. The step ladder she has is just too big for the small space. She gets frustrated when she has to bring it to and from the garage every time she needs something. (Can anyone relate?)

Define
Next up is to Define. Some experts also refer to this step as Finding Patterns’. It's really about discovering and nailing down the information we gathered from the end user. We think about what we’ve been told. Now we have the information, what will we build?

Well in the case of this example it may be…

“Design a ladder that my Mommy can easily reduce in size”.

Ideate
Woo! This is the part we love at Designer Minds. The room always ignites with a buzz when our Designers get their brains churning on their amazing creations. All ideas are welcome, go big! Sketch your thoughts out on paper. Get as many of them down as possible.

Prototype
Now we have our favourite designs down on paper, we need to pick the one that most suits our users' needs and start building. We make our idea a reality. This is where our engineering will likely come in. How do we make a strong ladder that will hold Mommy’s weight, while also having the capability to fold or somehow reduce in size enough to stow away. Let the child accept the constraints they may be facing, write it down. Work with the resources available (maybe it's LEGOs) and pivot if necessary based on the resources available.

Test
This is the stage where your little innovator has their first prototype. Maybe it's a ladder that can fold up or a series of boxes that can double as storage. Whatever the solution here is, we have to make sure it works. Show it to Mom. Does it meet her needs? Can we try it out to make sure it works?

Take notes on some things like, usability, stability, safety, appearance. Can they make it even better next time?

Reiterate
Keep going! Don’t stop at the first design. Take your testing and reiterate, improve your creation to better suit the needs of your end user (in this case, Mom)

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Designer Minds Summer Camps are for the curious kids who like to ask why, the creative kids who love to design and make, the little engineers who like to tinker and build and for the tech kids who love gaming, computers and robots. We’ve got a variety of interactive activities that are designed to be so much fun that children don’t even know they are learning!
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