Design Thinking


Units: 6


Design Thinking is a method by which we work to better understand and serve our intended users.  In a public policy setting these "users" are often citizens and others impacted by our tools, processes and other ways government attempts to deliver services.   

In this course we'll learn and apply Design Thinking to challenges that are representative of real-world problems.  We'll learn how to develop insights around those we need to serve, identifying and mapping out the real problem we're trying to solve for, and identify ways to provide and test solutions quickly through an iterative approach.  We'll also work to investigate solutions that are equitable and work for as many people as possible - making sure that we account for extremes in our dataset and those that otherwise might be overlooked by our own assumptions. 

Once we've developed our insights, we'll go through Design Thinking processes to rapidly prototype and test our ideas until we can settle on a solution or two that we think will work.  We'll continue to refine our best ideas and abandon those that don't appear to hold as much promise as we originally thought.  As we continue through this process, we'll learn how to develop personas and begin engaging representative users so that we can test our ideas and see if what we think shows promise really meets the needs and expectations of real people. 

Finally, we'll discover Design Thinking approaches to ensuring that we educate our partners and fellow citizens as we go, so that in the end we all benefit from a new way of diving into issues.  Students interested in testing their new-found skillsets with real-world partners and challenges are encouraged to also enroll for the Policy Innovation Lab, which follows this course.  The Policy Innovation Lab is a new initiative that connects students with actual policy challenges and introduces an agile, design-driven framework to rapidly create solutions to those challenges.  Students will work to solve pressing challenges by redefining the problem in terms of understanding the affected users of systems, conducting user-centered research, designing solutions, testing those same solutions, and iteratively improving those outcomes.   Students of the Design Thinking class will therefore get hands-on experience leading mini-workshop exercises and assisting fellow students in the lab with the approaches they learn through this class.

Students will be expected to embrace a culture that expects and encourages rapid iteration, express a willingness to fail early in order to discover a solution that ultimately works, and a flat structure that provides students with an opportunity to work and explore amongst themselves and across different teams. 

Learning Outcomes

  1. Understand how to apply Design Thinking methods to understand what your users need, and how to meet those needs. 
  2. Learn how to solicit input from users in creative ways and generate new ideas quickly. 
  3. Learn how to test your ideas and develop rapid prototypes. 
  4. Apply methods to develop better public-facing tools and resources that result in better execution of public policy goals.

Prerequisites Description

This course is designed for graduate-level experience that have at a minimum basic computer proficiency skills.  This means you should feel comfortable working with data in spreadsheets, an ability to write clearly and organize materials well, an interest in exploring new programs and present a willingness to learn something outside of your comfort zone.