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Design Thinking Projects in the Real World

Sophie Dvorkin | dvorkin19@dtechhs.org | June 7, 2018

Anyone that has ever visited the hallowed halls of Design Tech High School has encountered Design Thinking, whether it be through d.tech’s Design Lab classes, or simply through a throwaway comment in a parent tour. Despite this well-known fact, the majority of students have yet to discover products or businesses made by prevalent companies that are the fruition of the very foundation of d.tech.

For most students, the only connection that design thinking has to the real world is Stanford’s d.school, which is where d.tech gets the bedrock of our user-based mentality. But what d.tech students don’t know is that design thinking is widely used, from established companies such as Apple and Google, to startups like Paxx Labs, the infamous manufacturer of the Juul, the popular e-cigarette.

Another uncommon example of design thinking in the business world has to be Airbnb, an innovative alternative to splurging on hotels in popular tourist hotspots. In an interview with First Round Review, co-founder of Airbnb Joe Gebbia began noticing a pattern: the listings on the now-popular homestay site were poorly photographed.  “It actually wasn’t a surprise that people weren’t booking rooms because you couldn’t even really see what it is that you were paying for,” said Gebbia to First Round Review. In trying to look for a solution, Gebbia and Paul Graham, founder of Y Combinator, decided to toss conservative, “scalable” options out the window and focus on out of the box ideas. With this mentality came the totally unscalable idea of going to New York, finding the Airbnb listings, and then shooting them professionally.

What ultimately made Airbnb a unicorn in a sea of zebras on the San Francisco entrepreneurial scene was not the idea that you should do something out of the box, it was the fact that the decision made to travel to New York was not backed up by data. They just did it. What they didn’t see coming, though, was a way out of their $200/week plateau into a new range of $400/week and above, the first improvement they’d seen in months.

Gebbia took this new philosophy and ran with something he’d learned while at the Rhode Island School of Design. When thinking of medical devices, he knew that the way the devices were designed was through interacting with the people intending to use that device, and go through the experience.  What if he used that methodology to transplant the process into a tech startup? With the idea that you can make decisions that aren’t based on data and actually use the art of experience to craft a product, Airbnb turned from a $400/week startup that no one new about, to one of the top homestay sites in the world.

Design thinking has also made its way into smaller startups, like the Bay Area-based Reinventing Ice Cream. Reinventing Ice Cream teaches people how to use design thinking  through challenges such as redesigning the inside of an ice cream parlor, designing a user experience, and designing and tasting ice cream flavors. The purpose is not to design an actual ice cream parlor or ice cream flavors, but rather, to teach people of all ages how to use the design thinking process.

What these examples show, is that the foundation on which our school is built is not at a waste of time – design thinking changes the course of unsuccessful businesses and inspires people to change the way that they think about ideas. Will we take our school’s ability to foster creativity and turn it into an incubator for the biggest and brightest startup ideas?

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