Things to make very clear:

  1. I am no special authority when it comes to design thinking, I just play a design thinker during the daytime.
  2. Every one has an opinion, just like every one has an…
  3. Some say I can be snarky or tone-def, yet I like to think I am direct, translucent, efficient, & blunt. 
  4. I have written before my thoughts on the below Nurture the Designer & here with regards to d.TEAMSs not STEM/STEAM    

With those statements out of the way, let’s see if I can get my thoughts down on this post without being too wordy, snarky, or “you write like you talk” too much.

This post is a riff or maybe just a Yes, And off of the below tweet from DT Awesome Sauce of the West Coast Ellen Deutscher and the many replies…I am especially fond and fully agree with Kevin Jarrett’s reply to Ellen’s question. 

Click here for a lot of great replies to Ellen’s questions


For me, I have many thoughts, opinions, and snark to answer this question. It does irritate me when I see tweets stating this is “design thinking” when it clearly is NOT. (I am not referring to experiences where designer mindsets are being nurtured & practiced upon Its all about the intention & framing– read my thoughts on this)

Why does it irritate me? It irritates me because design thinking is never about self nor inanimate objects. It is ALWAYS about another person and empathizing for this person. Through empathy, understanding and insights are gained which thus propels the designer into the space of creating, making, doing, solving, being, & learning. The User leads the designer by strengthening the designer'”s empathetic posture which results in the increased power for understanding but also solving some amazingly, wicked problems in the world. 


If you are still reading this post, let’s get to the snark or to be more reflective of my intentions for this post- there are many  “design thinking processes, jargon, and activities” in the educational field today that are simply NOT design thinking (and that’s OK). What’s not ok is labeling it design thinking and due to your status, pedigree, financial motives, fancy graphics, and/or well-connected twitter following, you are hijacking a methodology that is clearly inaccurate and flawed. By doing this you are making design thinking a blanket and diluting the mindsets, the process, & its impact for the learner.  I wonder to what gain? 

Design Thinking does not need to be tied to anything. The methodology can stand on its own. Yet, it can also be utilized alongside other methodologies as long as empathy is the driver and the User leads the designer. Blanketing your process a “Design Thinking Process” yet not utilizing Empathy is NOT a design thinking process make. Its a Design Process and that’s OK.

Its NOT “let’s imagine an audience to design for” (its about empathizing, not imagining), its NOT “design X for someone” (without gaining understanding 1st), its NOT “design YOUR OWN X”, its NOT “HMW reimagine a learning space that is engaging & inspiring?” (without understanding the learning space and especially the LEARNERS in the space before identifying the Need/Problem in a HMW), its NOT “design a toothpick bridge” (without connecting it to someone & gaining empathy i.e Bridge to Terabithia), its NOT “designing for Middle Schoolers in a meeting space weekly” (yet never truly engaging and needfinding with Middle Schoolers), its NOT “design a superhero” (when you are designing for Self), its NOT “we/they/he/she it needs X design it” (see above), its NOT “design thinking” (if you are designing for self or there is not a true intention to gain empathy from another). 

We are all learners. I am still learning boatloads every day about design thinking, its depths, & power. And the one area I always have to be mindful of is the area of “Who am I designing for?” It is way to easy and easy to design for what I think the other person needs. Without empathizing to understand the needs of another person, I am not being a design thinker and that’s OK as long as I am saying, “I’m a designer/maker/creator/project guru/ etc.”

disclaimer #1: There are many teachers tackling design thinking for a variety of reasons. There are also a lot of teachers & EDU Leaders* teaching/preaching to teachers & students “design thinking” yet they are either confused OR misled OR don’t know any better OR are trying to fit STEM/STEAM/Maker + design thinking all into the same pot and forgetting the key ingredients Empathy + User OR jumping on the bandwagon by being a DT Pretender OR fail to grasp that by diluting the design thinking space with their DT snake oil eventually “empathy” will be viewed as a not worth doing in education OR none of the above.

disclaimer #2: a digital footprint reveals a lot about people and their level of experience.  

final disclaimer #3: if you are still reading this, jump on #dtk12chat 24/7 and for the official Power Hour Wednesdays, 9pm EST Here you will find a diverse and welcoming global community of K12+ educators seeking, sharing, connecting, and asking questions. Its where I learn every day.