Educators today are thinking ever more broadly and ever more creatively about learning and what it should look like to best prepare students for an unknown future. To prepare young minds for the challenges (and opportunities) of a future dominated by the magnitude of the unknown, Design Thinking is becoming an exciting framework on which to structure next generation learning.


SHP Educational Visioning | Design Thinking

Design Thinking is a solutions-focused approach to problem solving. While scientists use the Scientific Method as a hypothesis-driven approach to discover a verifiable solution to a problem, Design Thinking focuses on steps to overcome the challenges a particular problem creates.

Design Thinking is built upon five unique steps or skills: empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test. It’s a process where the best principles of both art and science work in synthesis. While many view design as strictly an art, Design Thinking requires logic, imagination, sound reasoning, and keen observation to truly succeed. Like many approaches, Design Thinking is best viewed as a tool for creative collaboration so that many contributors’ ideas can come forward in the ideate phase, allowing a prototype that uses the best elements of each.


As schools focus less on information recall and more on critical thinking, Design Thinking is a natural fit. Recognizing the rewards of teaching their students Design Thinking, a school system SHP has partnered with began offering it as an elective course. Not surprisingly, the SHP team utilized Design Thinking of our own to develop space for the school to teach the concept.

Design Thinking requires space. While last century’s schools could get by with small desks for students to work individually, Design Thinking requires room to brainstorm, collaborate, test and, sometimes, start all over again. When planning the space for a course in Design Thinking, it became clear that reusable vertical writing surfaces would be a key focal point and tool for creative collaboration, especially in the “define” and “ideate” phases of the process. (You can see here, understanding this challenge represented the “empathize” step of our very own Design Thinking approach to building the classroom).

So, we began to define the parameters. Traditional white boards at the front of the room wouldn’t work. A different set of students would be using the space during each period of the school day, and each set would need ample space on which to archive their process over the life of the project. Therefore, the room had to accommodate both display and writing surfaces for each period, while being able to be reset for the next class quickly and easily.


We began to ideate. What if each group could have their own white board or even boards—as many as they needed?

Perhaps we provide boards on wheels that might be nested in a corner when not in use? No … they take up too much room and provide limited surface. We moved on to the next idea.

What about bypassing wall mounted boards like in your college lecture hall? Maybe, but it was pretty pricey and still limited on surface. We needed something agile that provided nearly limitless writing/display space, and was affordable … really affordable.

Inspired by the leading school for Design Thinking, we turned to Stanford University and their book, “Make Space: How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration.” In it, they referenced making marker boards out of “shower board”—a cheap material available at any big box home store. Perfect!


SHP Educational Visioning | Short Boards

We had an idea we liked, so we began prototyping how it could be implemented. Stanford’s shower board solutions were intended to be left in place for long periods of time, not pulled out and put away on a daily basis. We had to consider how to make these white boards come and go with ease in a way that a 14-year-old could handle.

We needed a system that would allow these boards to be hung on any wall, anywhere in the room. It needed to snap strongly and easily at virtually any location. Empathizing again with a 14-year-old the idea came to us … Legos. Legos use raised surfaces to interlock with pre-cut holes to snap right into place.

Like a Lego, we installed a single row of pegs around the perimeter of the entire room, at regular intervals. By cutting holes in the shower board panel at the same interval, we could “mount” them where ever we wanted.  We could also overlap them or layer them up.

But a 4’x 8’ shower board panel is too unwieldy for ninth graders to be safely carry around a classroom, so we altered the prototype. After purchasing a panel of shower board from a home improvement store, we cut it in half to make a 4ft by 4ft dry erase panel.

Just one cut. Zero waste.

The team tested the concept and realized it was still too big for some folks to comfortably manage. So, we reduced the width to 32 inches, creating a much more manageable, short board while still avoiding any waste. These shorter boards would do the trick.

The last challenge was to create a receptacle in which to safely and easily store the short boards.  We designed a series of hangers that allow us to store hundreds of these boards in just a few square feet of floor space.

The beauty of this solution lies in its simplicity. It’s a nimble system that affords the users countless ways to arrange the short boards … and the boards themselves are nearly disposable.  Should they get damaged, or need more; a quick trip to the home store and a few minutes in the shop is all it takes to create a new batch of short boards.

It’s a great example… and one that’s very literal… of how the steps of Design Thinking can create a solution that solves a core problem in unique ways.