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A Few Thoughts on Facilitating the Stanford Design Thinking Crash Course

Over the weekend I facilitated the Stanford Design Thinking Crash Course as part of World Information Architecture Day 2016 in Dallas. It was a great day, with all kinds of cool giveaways, and there was a lot of excellent dialog and discussion.

The cool thing about the's Crash Course is that it's an interesting and entertaining entry-level workshop that is super easy to put on. It's available to anyone to use under a Creative Commons license. If you're not familiar with it, it guides participants through a pair-based exercise where you work all the way through through the basic phases of design: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test. There's also a video, which features Jeremy Utley and George Kembel from the It actually walks you through the entire workshop. So, as a faciliator, you don't even have to do the talking yourself if you don't want to. You can just press play! All you need is 90 minutes, some printouts, and some inexpensive prototyping stuff. Also of course internet access and an overhead projector and speakers to play the video! (More on this later - this is key.)

This was my second time facilitating the course and I have a few thoughts about how it went down.

First, the actual video. Both times that I've run the workshop, I've chosen to play the video to the participants, rather than leading the workshop myself. You could certainly lead the workshop yourself quite easily after watching the video. There is a "Playbook" for the faciliator on the website, so you'd just need a timer, and a certain comfort level with public speaking so that you could talk the participants through the exercises yourself. The "pros" for using the video are:

  • You don't have to keep starting and stopping the timer.

  • The presenters are fun and engaging - and they're from the Stanford That means: credibility! As a designer, we are often put into the position of educating people on design (and defending our design decisions). It can be really great to have your colleagues or clients hear the same message you're already giving them, but from an outside source. So this is definitely +1 for using the video.

  • Also, the music's built in - so you have nice upbeat music without having to figure it out yourself.

  • Finally, if you're not terribly comfortable with public speaking, using the video would be a great way to do an event such as a "Lunch and Learn" for your colleages without actually doing any public speaking! This workshop is an awesome entry-level introduction to design thinking which you, as a designer, could use to advocate for your design cause in your organization, with very little effort.

On the other hand:

  • If you use the video, you are completely tied to it, so you've got to make sure your A/V game is on point. Make sure you have reliable internet, video, and audio. Arrive early, test twice.

  • If you decide not to do the video, but to do the facilitation yourself, you are now entirely in charge. You have maximum flexibility. Will this distract you and lead you to take too long in some of the sections? There are upsides and downsides to this.

  • Finally, using the video can lead to a different kind of energy in the room. When you are leading a workshop, the participants are immediately engaged with you. Whereas, if you use the video, the participants are going to be more engaged with the video. You can counteract this by pausing the video after each section to check in. Walking around and sitting in on the small groups as they work is also a good idea. Again, pros and cons.

Next, the challenge prompt. The video encourages you to "Re-design the gift-giving experience for your partner." So you're supposed to interview your partner, find out the last time they gave a gift, and dig into the challenges of that experience for them. What were they thinking about as they were looking for that gift? What were the challenges and problems?

Both times I have run this workshop, I have run into issues with this particular challenge prompt. Rather than focusing on the gift giving experience, some participants have focused on the gift itself. I caught this each time by walking around and talking to the pairs as they were interviewing each other. The abstract nature of this prompt seems to be a bit confusing, especially to folks who are more literal thinkers. However, it does encourage people to think of things in more of a service design type of way, rather than a product design type of way.

There is an alternate prompt and worksheet, the Wallet Project, which gives participants the opportunity to redesign the wallet. The process for the Wallet Project is a little different than the process for the Gift-Giving Experience, because the worksheet starts off asking the participants to try to do the wallet design by themselves. I think this prompt is more concrete and could be a lot easier for people who are new to design thinking or who are involved with a specific product. I plan to run the Wallet Project the next time I do the Crash Course, and see how it goes.

The downside of using the Wallet Project is that the video matches the Gift-Giving Experience. However, 90% of the video is the same, so it would be relatively easy to still use the video just by stopping at the appropriate places and explaining the difference between the two projects.

Overall, I think the Crash Course is a great introduction into the design thinking methodology. And if you have the bandwidth to dig deeper, they provide three "Mixtapes" on the Crash Course website which have great ideas for really digging into your project. Someday, I'd love to run the Crash Course in the morning and then continue on with one of the Mixtapes in the afternoon. Big plans! :)

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