If you’ve ever been burdened with the task of trying to make a survey, you’ve probably had a crash course in some aspects of Design Thinking. When crafting questions for a survey, you often have to focus on two key questions: “What do I want to know?” and “Will this query, question, response get me the information I want to know?”

The same is true for Design Thinking but I didn’t know this until I tried it myself. Using Stanford University’s Wallet Project as a guide, my Dutiful Husband (DH), Rob, offered to be my partner so I could really learn about Design Thinking.


The task began simply enough. Rather than explain Design Thinking, I just threw my subject in at the deep end and asked him to “have a go” by sketching me the IDEAL wallet. With front-, back-, and top-view sketches, labels, and descriptions the IDEAL wallet looked pretty ideal… but it didn’t solve my problems! This “false-start” activity gave my DH a problem and asked him to solve it. But what it didn’t give him was… well, me! It didn’t give him a person at the center of his thinking.

Empathy. To successfully begin using Design Thinking, one must start with empathy. It is why stage 2 begins with an interview. The interview stage is where the creator gleans information and forms empathy with the client. During this particular interview he asked me:

  • Why I wanted a new wallet
  • What problems I had with my current wallet
  • Describe what I put in my wallet
  • What features I like with my current wallet
  • What new features I would like to see in a new wallet

After the initial interview, I gave him another few minutes to dig even deeper. By “digging deep,” the designer can illicit stories or feelings that will help them make meaningful alterations to the design they create. It was during this stage that he asked a lot of “Why” questions: “You said you have Band-Aids and 2 allergy tablets in your wallet, can you tell me more about this?”

Define. To come up with a definition of my problem, my DH needed to do some reflection. He needed to synthesize what he had learned in our interviews and take a stand. He narrowed down our discussion in to three main ideas:

  • She is looking for a NEW wallet that is smaller and more colorful than her current wallet
  • She wants a wallet that is practical
  • She is more interested in function than form

Ideate. The next stage in this process was for my DH to think of 5 radical ways to meet my needs. He proposed:

  1. duct-taping my current wallet where it was broken
  2. creating a money clip with a side zipper to hold change, Band-Aids, and my two allergy pills
  3. making a necklace from which the wallet could hang
  4. embedding an RFID chip in to my arm to eliminate carrying a wallet at all
  5. crafting a hinged wallet which he referred to as “the Swiss Army” wallet

Once the ideas were ready, he shared his solutions with me. Fighting the urge to defend his thinking, my DH listened openly as I told him I was viscerally opposed to duct-tape, the necklace, and surgery ideas and explained why. Rather than try to validate his own ideas, he was open to my genuine reactions. For his money clip and “Swiss Army” ideas, I offered feedback sharing some additional thoughts and feelings.

Based on the feedback he received my DH created a new solution. He sketched his new BIG ideas using some variation of previous ideas. The new wallet even included a customizable make-up kit with a mirror so I always had my lipstick nearby.

Prototype. Without additional feedback, my DH took his new solution and began building a physical prototype. With a limited amount of time on the clock, he needed to craft something I could touch and interact with.

Test. When he was done prototyping, he let me play around with it and share my thoughts. While  I engaged with the prototype, he elicited feedback about four key components:

  • What worked…
  • What could be improved…
  • Questions…
  • Ideas…

Reflecting. This entire experience had me thinking a lot about the project I want my first grade students to do. As I wrote about previously, the students are learning about communities. They will inquire in to “An international community works cooperatively when people are open to diversity.” The culmination activity has gone through a number of iterations already, but after “the Wallet Project” I know it can be even more.

So this is where I come full circle. Reflecting on the conceptual understanding I want my students to glean from this unit I need to focus back to those survey questions: “What do I want to know?” and “Will this query, question, response get me the information I want to know?”

… time to do some SERIOUS thinking!