Design for America presents the concept of "Design Thinking"

by Renee Probetts

“Keep writing! Keep sketching!”

In this hands-on seminar, delegates explored the design process and even experienced it for themselves with facilitators CC and Bobby, from Design for America (DFA), an organization that teaches students to make an impact in their community with design thinking at universities across America.

The seminar began with a warm-up, a preview of what was to come. The room was split into groups and each had to brainstorm and design a bird feeder for a superhero that also functioned as a vehicle… all in under one minute. Delegates were given pipe cleaners, legos, Play Doh, and complete creative control. This got the creative juices flowing and ready for what was to come.

After introductions of the facilitators and the organization, CC and Bobby dove head first into the design process, a main focus in DFA. Any project that they work on (projects that have even made their way to the White House) stems from this concept. Design thinking is a way of thought, focusing more on the process rather than the product. This is a method used by companies worldwide (Google and Apple, just to name a few…) which uses quick thinking and focuses on who the project is for. The main purpose of this process is really to ensure that the design is human-centered.

While it may never be a truly linear process, DFA lists out the various steps to take when using the design thinking process.


  1. Identify: Identify an issue in your community

  2. Immerse: Delve into the community, learn about the stakeholders in this issue.

  3. Reframe: Define the change you want to make and what the solutions need to accomplish


    4. Ideate: Brainstorm, brainstorm, and brainstorm some more. Generate possible solutions to the problem

    5. Build: Create the prototypes of what you have brainstormed

    6. Test: Take the prototypes to the users and get their feedback

It is a long and thorough process, but the central aspect of is simply talking to people. Empathizing with the users’ needs, working in interdisciplinary teams to benefit the experience and knowledge of a variety of people, and learning from mentors and team members.

The seminar did not stop there. In order to grasp how this process works, delegates tried it out for themselves. Delegates were presented with three different people, all having some problem, and all with a focus on the refugee crisis. Once more in groups, they discussed assumptions about the stakeholders, trying to empathize with how might they feel, what they are seeing, hearing, saying, and doing. They discussed certain pains and gain they experience. This creation of an assumptions map was a mix of Identify and Immerse, in this case. Since there was not the time to go out and interview real people about these real issues, the group had to just go with the belief that their assumptions were true.

Reframe was next. This step mainly deals with “how” questions. These questions are framed as a “How can we + user + behavior + place?” Their example: “How can we help parents make better food choices in the supermarket?” These types of questions really hone in on what the project needs to do.

Once each group decided on their central question, they brainstormed ideas. The facilitators laid out the rules for brainstorming:

  1. Quantity over Quality

  2. Defer Judgement

  3. Build on Ideas

  4. Encourage Wild Ideas

  5. Visualize Ideas

  6. Stay focused

Brainstorming is not an individual process in design thinking. Groups wrote, sketched, and discussed all possible solutions. They were even given a few minutes to build mini prototypes of their ideas.

Every person in the room contributed greatly throughout the entirety of the seminar with depth and incredible creativity.

At the start, CC had posed the question: “What is design?” This was met with the responses: design is “architecture”, “pretty”, “intuitive”, “planning”...

Well, design is a process. Over the course of about an hour, delegates learned about this process and directly saw how it can be applied to real world problems.