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Getting Started with Design Thinking

Design thinking is a flexible process for getting the most out of the creative process. It is used in the arts, in engineering, in the corporate world, at universities, and in social and civic spaces. You can use it in every subject with every age group. It works when creating digital content or when building things with duct tape and cardboard. It can even be used in planning events or in designing services. Scroll down to find articles, videos, and free resources to get started on your design thinking journey.

What Is Design Thinking?

Every day, I ask my kids, “What did you make in school today?” Too often, they can’t give me an answer. But on the days that they do, their eyes light up and they passionately describe their projects. It’s in those moments that I am reminded that making is magic.

But here’s the thing: this is hard to pull off. We all have curriculum maps and limited resources and standards we have to teach. We don’t always have fancy maker spaces or high-tech gadgetry. Our time is limited and so creativity is often a lofty ideal that rarely becomes a reality.

This is what I love about design thinking. It works within the standards in every subject. It’s a flexible approach that you can use with limited resources. It isn’t something new that you add to your crowded schedule. Instead, it’s an innovative approach to the work you are already doing — a process designed specifically to boost creativity and bring out the maker in every student.

This is why A.J. Juliani and I developed the LAUNCH Cycle. It’s a design thinking framework specifically tailored to K-12 classrooms that you can use at any grade level. Think of it this way. Making is the mindset. Design thinking is the process. The LAUNCH Cycle is the framework.

The Student-Friendly LAUNCH Cycle

For the last 15 years, I’ve used design thinking. As a teacher, I used it for everything from coding projects to service projects to documentaries to engineering challenges. As startup co-founder, we used the design thinking cycle for product development. As an author, it’s a framework I use for publishing. However, as a teacher, I realized that design thinking needed to be relevant, developmentally-appropriate, and simple enough that any child could use it.

A.J. Juliani and I realized the need for a student-friendly design thinking framework tailored specifically for a K-12 environment. We both had spent over a decade using design thinking and we had each added a few innovations, including an inquiry phase, a research phase, and a launch phase. After testing this out in multiple classrooms, we finalized the LAUNCH Cycle.

You can read all about it in our book Launch: Using the Design Thinking Process to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every

We created an acronym to help make it easier to remember:

L: Look, Listen, and Learn
In the first phase, students look, listen, and learn.The goal here is awareness. It might be a sense of wonder at a process or an awareness of a problem or a sense of empathy toward an audience.

A: Ask Tons of Questions
Sparked by curiosity, students move to the second phase, where they ask tons of questions.

U: Understanding the Process or Problem
This leads to understanding the process or problem through an authentic research experience. They might conduct interviews or needs assessments, research articles, watch videos, or analyze data.

N: Navigate Ideas
Students apply that newly acquired knowledge to potential solutions. In this phase, they navigate ideas. Here they not only brainstorm, but they also analyze ideas, combine ideas, and generate a concept for what they will create.

C: Create a Prototype
In this next phase, they create a prototype. It might be a digital work or a tangible product, a work of art or something they engineer. It might even be an action or an event or a system.

H: Highlight and Fix
Next, they begin to highlight what’s working and fix what’s failing. The goal here is to view this revision process as an experiment full of iterations, where every mistake takes them closer to success.

Launch to an Audience 
Then, when it’s done, it’s ready to launch. In the launch phase, they send it to an authentic audience. They share their work with the world!

Design Thinking Articles

The following is a series I created on design thinking. Note that I continue to update this and revise this, so be sure to bookmark this page an come back to revisit it periodically.

Part One: An Overview of Design Thinking

Part Two: The LAUNCH Cycle

Part Three: Taking the Leap

Additional Articles on Design Thinking

What Is Included:

  • Sample Design Thinking Projects, complete with videos, slideshows, lesson plans, and a student notebook
  • The Launch into Design Thinking eBook
  • A suite of assessments you can use as you implement design thinking
  • Sketch-note videos explaining aspects of the LAUNCH Cycle

Get the Toolkit

Please leave your email address below and click the yellow subscribe button to receive the free design thinking toolkit. It includes a free design thinking project, an eBook, and a suite of assessments. I will also send you a weekly email with free, members-only access to my latest blog posts, videos, podcasts and resources to help you boost creativity and spark innovation in your classroom.