Design Thinking

What is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is a powerful, problem-solving framework that helps us put people – “users” – at the center of our design solutions. Many define design thinking as people-centered problem solving. In other words, instead of a designer just creating something that he or she believes to be useful, through design thinking we research human needs in very purposeful and meaningful ways so that our solutions more significantly address the needs of the people who will use what has been designed.

Where is the Impact?

Transformation in Practice

At the core of design thinking work, we use empathy to get to the deep needs of people, we use prototyping so that we can build to learn and test ideas in progress, and we iterate our emerging designs based on feedback from the users. We can take on any challenge, large or small, with empathy, prototyping and feedback, to design a better world.

Better Backpack

Design Challenge

At Mount Vernon, we use design thinking to make things better. With that in mind, students worked together with a partner to help design a better backpack – all out of cardboard. This challenge encouraged students to engage with all stages of the design thinking experience, starting with “empathy interviews” in which partners shared their vision of the ideal backpack. Through a process known as “ideating,” students brainstormed as many ideas as possible and developed a prototype based on their favorite idea. Finally, students received feedback on their prototypes and iterated new versions based on their partner’s advice. Building empathy, failing up, thinking big, and always striving to be better by accepting thoughtful feedback are all part of the design thinking process, and each year Mount Vernon students can’t wait to put those skills to the test at the cardboard challenge.

A Recent Case Study

Fulton County Schools

In 2020, a team of MV Ventures senior consultants worked with two new Fulton County STEM schools for a year-long consulting partnership. With design thinking at the core of both programs, MVV consultants utilized a hybrid of virtual and in-person sessions to engage with teams of teacher leaders from both schools for comprehensive design thinking training and curriculum design, supporting both administration and faculty during the 2020-2021 school year.

The first half of the partnership involved a deep-dive into the design thinking methodology, allowing participants to become both users and designers. Team members got a clear understanding of what design thinking is, why it’s such a powerful framework for problem-solving, and what it looks like in the classroom. The second half of the parnership supported the teams to infuse design thinking into the curriculum design including unit plans and design challenges throughout each of the different pathways offered to students.

How do I get started?

Excited? Curious? Overwhelmed? Check out these step-by-step resources to guide you along your Design Thinking journey.


Want more information on competency-based learning? Let us know where you are on your journey. Transformation needs a guide. We can help.

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