Stanford D School Methodology


1—Interview your Partner (EMPATHIZE)

  • Your challenge is to design a lesson plan (teachers), an implementation plan from a grant (administrators), or an app for teachers (tech coaches). This means that each one of you will role-play the person in need: student for teacher, teachers & tech coaches for administrators, and teachers or administrators for tech coaches.
  • The most important part of designing for someone is to gain empathy for that person.

Example: While there are lots of ways to gain empathy for someone else, a simple, easy way to do that is to have a conversation and ask open ended questions. “When was the last time you gave a gift? How did it go? What was your favorite part? Least favorite part? Etc.”


2-Dig Deeper

  • Try to dig for stories, feelings, and emotion.

Ask ‘Why?’ often.

  • Forget about the thing that you are trying to create. Find out what’s important to your partner’s role-play character.

Example: For example, if your user mentioned that it’s challenging to decide on which gift to purchase, ask why? Maybe it’s because they don’t really know what the other person wants; or maybe it’s because they’re afraid of what the gift says about THEM as the giver – any answer will lead you to understand your user (the gift giver) better. The key is to identify anywhere you’re making assumptions and then ask a question to test whether your assumption is valid.


3-Capture Findings (DEFINE)

  • Try to synthesize your learning into a few ‘needs’ that you have discovered, and a few ‘insights’ that you find interesting.
  • Needs should be verbs – think about it this way – in the process of completing your task, what is your user actually trying to accomplish? What does gift giving do for THEM?
  • Insights are discoveries that you might be able to leverage when creating solutions.


4-Take a Stand with a Point-of-View

  • This is your point-of-view.
  • Take a stand by specifically stating the meaningful challenge you are going to take on.
  • It should feel like a problem worth tackling!
  • This is the statement that you’re going to address with your design, so make sure it’s juicy and actionable.

Example: Maybe you found that your partner is really trying to reunite the family; or reignite a lost love; or infuse adventure into a boring suburban existence; or reconnect with an old friend; or demonstrate his own creativity!


5-Sketch to Ideate (IDEATE)

Rewrite your problem statement at the top of the page.

Now you are creating solutions to the new challenge you’ve identified.

GO FOR VOLUME! This is time for idea generation, not evaluation.

You don’t have to draw well. Stick figures and squiggly lines are A-OK!


6—Share solutions and capture feedback

Spend the time listening to your partner’s feedback.

  • Fight the urge to defend your ideas. This is not about validation.
  • This is an opportunity to learn more about your partner’s feelings and motivations (remember: empathy)


7-Reflect & Generate a New Solution

Now, take a moment to consider what you have learned both about your partner, and about the solutions you generated. From this new understanding of your partner and his or her needs, sketch, a new idea. The solution may be a variation on an idea from before or something completely new.

Ask yourself: How might this solution fit into the context of your partner’s life?



  • Create a prototype of your solution.
  • Create an experience or make something that your partner can engage and react to.
  • Feel free to focus the prototype on one aspect of the overall solution.


9-Share Your Solution and Get Feedback

  • Your prototype is not precious, but the feedback and the new insights it draws out are!
  • Don’t defend your prototype; instead, watch how your partner uses and misuses it.


10-Group Gather and Debrief

Please spend 5-8 minutes on each question:

  1. How did engaging with a real person, testing with a real person, change the direction your prototype took?
  2. What was it like showing unfinished work to another person?
  3. How did the pace feel? Quick, iterative cycles – how did that feel relative to how you normally work?
  4. Design thinking is an iterative ,self-directed process. Based on what you learned – what would you go back and do next? What would you do over again?
  5. What principle, what tool, would you infuse into the work tomorrow?

Possible additional exercises

  • Set all of the prototypes in the middle of the room.
  • “Who had a partner who created something that you really like?”
  • “Who sees something that they are curious to learn more about?”
  • “Who wants to share their experience?”
  • “What part felt most uncomfortable to you?”
  • “What felt most natural?”
  • “How did the time pressure impact your work?”
  • “How did it feel to show someone else unfinished work/work in such a low-resolution?”
  • “As a USER, how did you interact with your partner’s lowly-resolved prototype; how did the level of resolution impact your experience as a user?”