Design Thinking at Mid-Pacific - Mid-Pacific Institute

Design Thinking

Design Thinking at Mid-Pacific

Posted on August 21, 2017

by Leilani Sills on August 21, 2017

The Design Thinking course at Mid-Pacific offers students the chance to learn and practice the design thinking process. Students are encouraged to take risks, learn from failure, and support peers. During the first quarter of school, we barely even touch the computers, we're low-tech. What!? That's right, we rarely use the computers at the beginning of the year. More often than not, when students and adults hear the word prototyping, they immediately imagine prototypes created with the use of technological tools - 3D printing, laser cutting, app design, etc. But to get to that point, a foundation in the design thinking process is required, with a side of community building.

Empathy - Understanding the user's need (who we are solving a problem for)

Define - Creating a problem statement that is used to bring focus to the prototype

Ideate - Brainstorm different solutions (usually sketched, sometimes just discussed in the group). The first rule of brainstorming dictates that there are no rules, all ideas are welcome and encouraged.

Prototype - Building the solution

Test/Feedback - Get feedback from the user (or peers) to enusre the prototype addresses the problem.


The Design Thinking Process Explained by a Scribble

In order to create the support network of peers, students must get to know each other and be comfortable in uncomfortable situations - from sharing their sketches and ideas to giving feedback on how to improve someone else's idea. No longer are students "competing" for a high grade, but they are supporting each other to ensure each project is successful. I like to tell my students that the greatest compliment is if someone copies your idea. Not only do you have a good idea, they might be able to come up with a different way to improve upon it. It's ok to have more than one version of the same idea - think about all the different versions of products we have to choose from. Each one solved some type of design problem!

To build community in the classroom we constantly changing teams (easily done so with random group generators). Given a design challenge, students are asked to complete them in teams. Students get their first taste of applying their collaboration, communication and critical thinking skills with prior knowledge from their core classes. They struggle together, work together, and think together in order to solve the challenge. We focus on the process of getting to the product rather than the product itself.


Collaboration is a difficult skill at times working with different personalities and having team members with different activities. To start, students did a class collaboration drawing. Each team drew a different part of the drawing and passed the paper around the room until the drawing was complete.


As a teacher, it's not my job to give them the answer but to help guide them along the way. There is no correct way to get to the end (as demonstrated in my scribbly mess drawing above). Instead of being the "all-knowing" person in the room, I facilitate the projects going on in the room. There may be 3, 4, or 18 different prototypes being built! When students run into trouble, they may struggle but that's where our safety net comes into play. They are able to reach out to each other, ask questions or get guidance. If they are still stuck then we reach out to the world via the internet to try to find answers. I constantly remind students that taking risks is okay. It's okay to have a prototype not work or to "fail." We sometimes learn our best lessons from failures. It's more important to know what went wrong and why. How can I improve next time? What could I change?

It may seem odd that the prototypes aren't the focus of the project itself. The purpose of a prototype - a physical representation of an idea that still needs some refining. Jim Yurchenco, the engineer of the original apple mouse, used the ball from a roll-on deodorant stick and a butter dish from a Walgreens. Read more about the prototype in this article: The Engineer of the Original Apple Mouse Talks About His Remarkable Career.

In any challenge, students will be first offered low-tech materials to use - pipe cleaners, foil, coffee filters, popsicle sticks, toothpicks, newspaper, cardboard, etc. As we expect there to be different versions of the prototypes, we also start with cheaper material and move towards the final 3D printed or laser cut prototypes. Again, the purpose being that we need to refine that idea first.

In a rapid prototyping challenge, students had was to create something that was "nice" to look at using only a piece of foil and 8 pipe cleaners in 10 minutes. It required quick thinking and teamwork to build something. The prototypes varied and some turned out to be quite nice!



Follow us throughout the year to see what type of challenges the students are given and the various prototypes they create.