Design Thinking, Defining the Challenge, and Thinking about our Assumptions

IMG_7321I am lucky enough to work at school that is one of the 2014 “home teams” for the K-12 Lab at the Stanford Design School (d school). Of the course of the 2014-2015 school year all the home teams meet to do a deeper dive on the different habits of being a design thinker. This month, we discussed “define” and the different assumptions/unspoken rules of engagement we have about different topics and experiences. I was excited about this because I have a hard time guiding students to truly define the challenge they are trying to solve.

Defining is process of finding the problem worth solving. It involves making sense of what is happening, unpacking our assumptions, and reframing what we think the problem actually is. We’re asked to dig for insights, to go deeper, and to identify opportunities.

For the day we were asked to redesign the dining experience and to make it more social. The day started off in a restaurant, with all us being immersed in the experience (without knowing about the design challenge). This was a great way to give us all a common experience to refer to as we participated in the redesign.

Challenging our assumptions about dining was next by looking five different levers–time, space, roles, rituals, and made objects. We brainstormed our assumptions for each of these constructions and then either flipped or augmented the assumption (e.g. servers serve the customer is flipped and now the customer serves the server or other customers).

In small groups, we chose three ideas to look at from one of the levers–an idea that is on challenge (HMWIMG_7325 redesign the dining experience to be more social), an idea that is interesting, and an idea that is feasible. My group ended up thinking about the place settings and its role in dining (and how to make it more social). We designed an experience called “props”-where you can dress up your dining experience by mixing and matching your theme according to your mood, group, or event. We used paper, cups, and other objects to create prototypes of our idea. The photo below shows some of our theme items–different table settings, decorations, and placemats.

All good design challenges are tested, and the k-12 lab brought in six people to test our ideas. Even though this was only for feedback, we still felt pressured to create a “good” experience for the users.


From the experience, I was able to get some good ideas for students to use–especially thinking about assumptions and levers. My students design a school of the future and I am always struck by how constrained they are by their own schooling experience. Our school is completely made up of portables and that is what the students recreate. Thinking about our assumptions about education and space will hopefully help with that.

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About Jessica Lura

I am the director of teaching and learning at public K-8 charter school in Northern California. I work to integrate technology and hands-on learning into the classroom. I develop and lead professional development for my school, helping teachers develop project-based learning and design thinking units, integrate technology and digital citizenship in the classroom, and create opportunities for real world interactions and projects. For my efforts, I was named Santa Clara County's Office of Education Charter School Teacher of Year for 2013 and a 2014 Comcast All-Star Teacher. I am also a Google Certified Innovator
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