Empathy is at the Core of Design Thinking

Chrissie Wywrot is a freelance writer and social media expert with focuses on LinkedIn profile development and blogging. She is also an advocate for The ChadTough Foundation which raises funds and awareness for Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, or DIPG. Learn more about Chrissie and her business at chrissiewywrot.com.

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empathy design thinkingWhat is design thinking?

Simply speaking, it’s a way to keep us from limiting ourselves through the solution we believe to be true.

Take an example from Daylight Design, a company that collaborated on a project looking to get American kids more physically active.

Daylight surveyed kids, found patterns in the information they gathered, generated design principles, made the principles tangible through prototypes, and then refined, refined, refined, until they found the solution to their initial problem.

The solution is a far cry from simply listening to music to encourage exercise.

“With the Kid Power Band, children go on digital ‘missions’ in other countries,” writes Margaret Rhodes on Wired.com. Each mission is like a level in a video game that parents can purchase in the form of individual, $4 apps (on top of the app that comes with the $40 device).

“Kids can win, or complete, a mission by reaching a certain number of steps, which are recorded by the pedometer in the Kid Power Band. Every time a kid completes a mission, they also unlock a parcel of food for undernourished kids in other parts of the world. The big picture idea: encourage kids in the United States, who need more physical activity, to exercise for the sake of feeding children elsewhere.”

How cool is that? Through design thinking, Daylight and Ammunition learned that kids had a heart for helping others and used that to get them to engage in a real-life video game!

Design Thinking For More Than Design

What’s awesome about design thinking is that it applies to so much more than literal design. Educators are now using these principles for all subjects.

English teacher and co-founder of Wicked Decent Learning Dan Ryder writes, “By fueling problem solving with empathy, and putting human experience at the center of intention, my project-based learning approach to English language arts found the soul I didn’t even realize it was missing.”

Instead of writing blindly with the objective of what he believes the end-user wants to read, Ryder is incorporating design thinking into the writing process.

“I realized the reader is a user and the author, poet, playwright, essayist — a designer,” he wrote.

Design thinking can be applied to anything with an end-user in mind: “products, services, processes, physical locations … anything that needs to be optimized for human interaction.”

Working Together On An Empathy-First Approach

An empathy-first approach is great for problem solving, but it’s also a fantastic life lesson that educators and parents can teach students. Educators can get the entire class involved in working through a problem using design thinking.

Take a look at some of these examples from Stanford’s design school. What ideas do you have to incorporate design thinking into your classroom or home?

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