Design Thinking in Education: how to make sure you are creating meaningful solutions.
As designers of software products, we are constantly trying to improve the experience of our users. One of the biggest problems we have encountered is how to design an experience for someone else that doesn’t purely come out of our own vision of the problem.
This is especially problematic in education. There are constant debates about what works in learning and teaching. Furthermore, many edtech product designers have no previous teaching experience and run the risk of interpreting life in the classroom incorrectly.
So when it comes to identifying pain points and how we might be able to relieve some pressure, we should go further than what I call “armchair designing.”
What is Design Thinking?
That’s why we incorporate Design Thinking, which is all about empowering your users. In edtech, they are the ones who understand better than anyone else what it is like to teach and learn. And they probably have some ideas or two about how to improve the classroom experience themselves!
At SOWISO, this means we are not designing for our users, but we are designing with our users.
This does of course imply that as a designer, we need to have our own learning mindset. Without proper communication and interaction with our users, we won’t fully understand their position. Design Thinking helps us get to this understanding.
So How Does It Work?
There are 5 phases: Discovery, Interpretation, Ideation, Testing and Evaluation. I’ll touch upon all them below.
The first step is gathering data about your user and their experience. The goal is to create narratives that help guide your understanding. How are they using your product? What are the roadblocks they experience? Sometimes even more importantly, what are they not using your product for, but wish they could?
Gathering this information is important, and there are several ways of doing so. You can think about observing your user, questionnaires, or sit down with them and ask them open questions. It’s important to listen instead of guiding the conversation in a direction you hope it might go. In 1998, Steve Jobs told Business Insider that: “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” I have to disagree with Mr. Jobs, but he was right about one thing: customers are not always aware of a pain point, or they are not able to articulate it correctly. This is due to a process called habituation, where the brain gets used to the numerous annoying tasks it has to do every day. Your brain goes on autopilot and just doesn’t notice them anymore. Tony Fadell, a product designer and entrepreneur who worked for both Apple and Google, did a great TED talk about this.
So now that we have our stories, need to interpret them and transform them into useful insights. This means organizing your findings. What are the experiences that your users have in common? What is different? How you cluster this information is entirely up to you and we advise some creativity!
When you’ve done all of this, write down a problem statement around three keywords: What? Who? Why? This will help us interpret our findings and see past what has been said, and into what was said in between the lines.
At this point we feel confident that we the problems our users face every day. Geat! Now it’s time for the exciting part; brainstorming. What possible solutions could you come up with that solve this problem?
One of the best things to do here is to come up with crazy, even impossible solutions. They might not help you actually solve the problem, but they will further help you better understand the problem your user is facing and can serve as a jumping-off point for innovative solutions. Remember, great ideas come from minds without restrictions, and minds at play. Play invites humor and creativity, and creativity is what you will need to solve your users’ problems.
Testing and Evaluation
Now that you did all you could to understand your users problem, thought broadly, creatively and openly about solutions, it’s time to test them. Build prototypes to make your ideas tangible and bring them to your users. Find out what their response is, and use their feedback to improve on your designs. A constantly evolving product should be your goal.
In the end, all that is left is to evaluate your findings and decide what solution is the way to go. Now all that is left is a simple rinse and repeat, because your work as a product designer and edtech innovator will never be done!
Hopefully this will give some insight in how we explore product design at SOWISO.
Let’s talk again soon!