Content & Digital Strategist

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Are you familiar with the concept of “design thinking?” It’s a design process where designers interview and interact with real people who will be the audience or “users” for their solution. The interview process hinges on empathy and generates ideas and feedback about what frustrates people, what people feel, and what people really need and want.

Based on trends found during interaction with real users, designers will come up with several ideas. Through continued ideation, prototyping, testing, and feedback from the real users they will eventually come to a solution: a product that embodies the real needs, wants, and sentiments of the intended audience.

What is Design Thinking?

Here’s a good video showing the application of design thinking. The example is a group of designers who are looking for a way to get kids to be more active and healthy:

Design Thinking in Travel & Tourism

I recently helped organize session content for Tourism Academy, a travel and tourism conference attracting destination marketers from around the U.S. We invited Troy Thompson, an engaging speaker and design geek to run a hands-on workshop about design thinking.

Adapting the Stanford Wallet Project

Troy adapted the Stanford Wallet Project for the travel and tourism industry as the “Tourist Project.” The idea was to get a room full of conference attendees to team up into pairs, learn about one another’s travel experiences, what do they love, hate, fear, etc. about travel, and then design solutions to improve the travel experience. The first half of the workshop involved a lot of interviewing and conversation, and some sketching of ideas. Participants honed in on the idea that would best solve for their partner’s needs and then the real fun began: the hands-on prototype building.

Prototyping is Fun!

We had prepared for the workshop by stockpiling prototyping materials. (Troy has written a great post about how to prep for prototyping.) From cardboard and pipe cleaners, to markers, construction paper, and just weird stuff you can find at the dollar store, we had two big tables full of prototype supplies.


It was a real joy to see a bunch of grownups in business attire rush to a crafts table to grab building supplies. Everywhere I looked there was creative, intense activity going on.  Here’s a glimpse of what it looked like when we sent the group over to the supply tables.

People scurried back to their tables with supplies in hand. There was even some run-walking going on. I saw one man taking off his suit jacket and rolling up his sleeves to get down to business. One woman was frowning, rapt with concentration as she glued two pieces of cardboard together to make a “high-speed train” prototype. One gentleman was intricately weaving pipe cleaners between sheets of paper to make a hat.

At the end of the session, everyone had built a completely unique prototype for a solution that would improve the travel experience. We had all the attendees bring their prototypes to the front of the room and set them on the stage. A few volunteers stepped up to do a little show-and-tell in front of the group.


People were nodding, and laughing, impressed by the ingenuity and creativity that came out of about one hour of interacting with each other and digging deeper to learn about one another’s experiences traveling. Finally, Troy wrapped up the session by reminding us all to step outside of the boardroom, the office, the cubicle, and to apply this practice in our own organizations and businesses. It was my favorite moment of the conference by far and I received similar feedback from attendees.

If you are preparing for a company retreat or conference, then consider using the Wallet Project or an adaptation to get your team to re-think how it attacks problems. Here are some more links and resources to find out more about design thinking and how to run a similar workshop of your own!

Design Thinking Links & Resources

The “Tourist Project” from Tourism Academy 2016 (PDF)

Stocking A Prototype Closet (Troy Thompson)

An Introduction to Design Thinking Process Guide (Institute of Design at Stanford)

Crash Course in Design Thinking (Video – Institute of Design at Stanford) 

Brittany Brouse