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Design Thinking: 90-Minute Introduction

A quick hands-on introduction to the design thinking approach

Jordan Shade

Design thinking has been adopted by start-ups and enterprises in a variety of industries today. The Harvard Business Review, Bloomberg, and Gartner are all reporting on design thinking’s impact on business...but what is design thinking? The approach is one that’s familiar to designers since the 1970s: using observed user behaviors to drive an iterative process through collaboration among multidisciplinary teams. Design thinkers solve problems with their users instead of for them.

Design thinking enables us to gain a real understanding of and empathy for actual user needs (not just “wants”) so that companies and makers of all kinds can create products, services, and experiences that stand out to real people in the market. Adopting an iterative, lean, test-to-learn approach allows for quick evolution and calibration of ideas to meet user and market needs. When we include people from multiple disciplines with a variety of perspectives to work together using visual thinking methods, many ideas can be explored quickly with an understanding of impact, feasibility, and viability.

In this 90-minute introductory course, you’ll try out some basic activities engaging this problem-solving approach and start putting the user at the center of your decision-making process. Before the course begins you’ll complete some activities, including defining your user’s current experience and identifying your user’s biggest pain points today. During the course you’ll create a basic research plan to address assumptions and questions you have regarding your user’s current experience and enhance your understanding moving forward. Finally, we will define human needs for your user’s future experience, identify opportunities, and brainstorm ideas to address these opportunities.

What you'll learn-and how you can apply it

Participants will understand:

  • The basic principles and activities of design thinking
  • Basic research methods and the inquiry-driven mindset

Participants will be able to:

  • Begin mapping their user’s current journey and experience
  • Identify assumptions in their thinking in order to turn those assumptions into research questions

This training course is for you because...

  1. You’re a product owner with a business or design background and you need to refocus on your users and customers.
  2. You’re a salesperson or consultant with an industry-specific background and you need to uncover your customer's end users’ needs to provide them with meaningful, customized solutions.
  3. You’re a designer with a traditional design background and you need to uncover your users’ needs to inform your design work and collaborate with other disciplines.


  • Basic understanding of the design thinking approach and some practice in its application
  • Basic understanding of team dynamics and a leadership perspective

Learning Activities:

Assignments prior to the live scheduled meetings online:

Read: Gartner blog:

Read: Harvard Business Review: Design Thinking Comes of Age

Read: IDEO & Design Thinking 60 Minutes:

Read: What is Design Thinking?

Watch: Transforming healthcare for children and their families: Doug Dietz at TEDxSanJoseCA 2012

Complete: One Homework Exercise: Your User’s Current Experience; worksheet PDF and example are provided.

Additional Course Materials - Download:


About your instructor

  • After growing up in the deserts of rural Texas and the Middle East, Jordan Shade lived on and off in Austin, Texas for 12 years after originally landing there to study fine arts at the University of Texas. She learned about design thinking by accident— practicing it while dabbling in early childhood development sometime after college—and then decided to pursue a Masters in Design at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. Jordan’s work in grad school ranged from cocreation with workers’ unions to studying how design translates into multiple languages and cultures in Beirut, Lebanon. She has led design research on analytics products for IBM and now focused on design thinking facilitation as a practice for IBM Studios globally. Part of her work at IBM includes applying design research skills to the adoption and practice of design thinking across diverse teams, environments, and contexts to uncover patterns and develop enablement programs to support IBM’s massive cultural transformation.


The timeframes are only estimates and may vary according to how the class is progressing

Introduction: What is design thinking and how is it being applied today? (15 min)

  • Instructor will introduce the basic principles and practices of design thinking, deliver a brief case study of its application at a large-scale company (IBM), and facilitate an introductory activity.
  • Participants will learn the basics as well as the fundamental vocabulary and reflect on their personal favorite experience they have had as users.
  • Participants will share the “whys” of these experiences: why they value them as users; the instructor will pull out common themes.

Research, reality, and the beginner’s mindset (10 min)

  • Instructor will explain the value of the beginner’s mindset and having an inquiry-based attitude. Basic user observation and research methods will be explained as well as the process of identifying and testing assumptions.
  • Participants will learn the basics of research and how they might begin practicing user observation or enabling others to do so.

Practice an iterative design thinking cycle (40 min)

Instructor will facilitate participants through:
- Assumption identification and question documentation using the preassigned, as-is user journey map  
- Q&A  
- A basic research plan to resolve assumptions and questions found
- Q&A    
- Translating pain points into opportunity statements  
- Q&A    
- Rapid-fire brainstorming on those opportunities  
 (combined opportunity statements and brainstorming)
- Q&A  
- Participants will follow verbal and written instructions in the pre-downloaded worksheets for this series of activities in order to experience a design thinking mindset first hand. They will post their activities as screenshots or photos to the Slack channel as each is completed.

Break (5 min)

Reflection and Q&A (20 min)

  • Instructor will facilitate one participant sharing with the larger group their sequence of design thinking activities by photographing panels of their worksheets to post in Slack in a sequential order. Instructor will point out themes common to this example and other themes seen throughout the activities posted by all participants.  
  • The instructor will then take questions and wrap up the session with some take-away points. Participants will end the course with practical, foundational design thinking experience and motivation to learn more and move forward with the user in mind.