We kicked off 2016 with our very first design thinking course: IDP116 Introduction to Design Thinking.

The course ran for one week during Interterm. Students were asked to work collaboratively to conceptualize and prototype a design that would help someone learn something. Download the syllabus here.

The focus of class discussions was on using design thinking to move away from the traditional take on “problem-solving” towards a more generative one, problem-framing.Problem-framing allows us to understand a problem with a beginner’s mindset, to learn from the people we are trying to design from, and to continously engage them in the creative process. It was an opportunity to explore the complexity of a problem and to appreciate how different people might experience it differently.

The 4 design teams each started this process of understanding with a visit to a site where learners were engaged in the business of learning. One team went to a 4th grade classroom; one team went on a play date with 7 year olds; one team chose to hang out in the dining hall; and one team visited a college-level French language class.


  • Fostering creativity in the classroom

    We observed a 4th grade class at the Campus School (SCCS) and we discovered that allowing students to exercise their creativity was already a focal point in their lessons and assignments. We chose to design a portable desk that would help foster that creativity. Check out our mini-portfolio!

  • Imagine That!

    We designed a play box for young, spunky, happy kids who like not having rules and need a way to build a space to connect with each other because they want to have fun and just be kids. Check out our mini-portfolio!

  • Re-teaching composting

    We designed for an environmentally aware student with previous compost knowledge who needs more information about Smith’s compost process because they believe “Smith doesn’t actually compost. Check out our mini-portfolio!

  • The Language Learning Experience

    We visited a French language class. The students we spoke to told us they value having a judgement-free zone where they can make mistakes and practice speaking. Our application helps students learn a language in a fun, casual manner while also effectively teaching them the language. Check out our mini-portfolio!

Here are some snippets of what students had to say about their experience in the new class.

I liked

I liked

I think this class has made me grow as a person— I was able to explore and challenge a side of myself that I wasn’t necessarily familiar or comfortable with— and learn lessons about empathy. Bella Chou

I saw the time limit of the class to be a strength, allowing me to embrace failure and suggest ideas that I would overthink if given the time. I learned that giving myself a quick turn around allows me to be more creative and also makes me less attached to a design, so if it fails horribly I can learn from it rather than have it hold me back. Amanda Lavond

Instead of just learning about design thinking, I found that I also learnt a lot about myself. Farah Samawi


I think that is a special experience to know someone else’s
idea and their unique thinking which are different from our own. Xiu Xie

Every day, I looked forward to this class because it was not in a traditional classroom where the students sat in desks in some kind of row formation. Instead, the group seating and the shelves of different materials in the middle gave the room a creative and collaborative feel. The white boards on the wall made me feel excited each day because they would be filled with the ideas of yesterday and we would add directly to them. Meghan Johnson

I liked learning about the human-centered approach emphasized in this class, which allowed me to view the typical engineering design process through a friendlier, more approachable lens. Bethany Claps

During the past few days, people in my four person group have kept raising questions about our approach to the problem. Were we taking too narrow of a frame? Trying to do too much with our prototype? Too quickly attaching ourselves to easy answers to our problem? This intentionality is incredibly exciting and inspiring to me!Eliana Gevelber

IDP 116 has taught me the how useful storytelling can be, the importance of problem framing, the power of different brainstorming methods and how being rushed can be beneficial. From the very first day, we immediately began developing prototypes…Lucy Kneissler

Before joining the class, I thought the design thinking process started with a problem we needed to solve… I now realize how much work goes into the design thinking process before arriving at the final, “what is our solution” phase.Lisa Feiden

This course was extremely validating for me in that a lot of what design thinking is is similar to my own creative process, and it was exactly the direction and guidance that I need to push myself in a way that was constructive. I didn’t realize up until taking it how much I needed this class! I like that the focus was on the process and not a final product (since really, there are no final products, just iterations), and that it was the perfect balance of structure and freedom. Olivia Daddi

I like that in this class I was able to freely talk and be my authentic self. I wish this J-term class was longer, and that we had more to observe and interview. I wonder whether this class next J-term could be expanded to two weeks if there is a way to provide more wall space for writing.Jessica Innis

When I was working with my team through the brainstorming process I learned to look at the bigger picture. I think the fast pace of our design challenge was especially helpful because it forces us to narrow down the scope of our design…to become less concerned about the technicalities and the final product and focus more how the user would interact with our product and the needs it would fulfill.Tam Nguyen

I enjoy textbooks, following formulas, and eventually reaching a goal or tangible outcome when it comes to solving a problem. However, IDP 116 challenged me to embrace mistakes and failures, and to unleash my more creative side in order to think about the process of addressing a problem rather than finding the solution to the problem.Harleen Kaur