Lesson Plan: Design Thinking for Entrepreneurial Journalists

A hands-on introduction to the power of design thinking to inspire students to appreciate the impact human-centered design can have on journalism

Overview & Purpose

This session introduces students to the design thinking methodology and its five stages: Discovery, Interpretation, Ideation, Experimentation and Evolution. Students grasp the approach by undertaking two quick warm-up activities followed by a classic hands-on design thinking exercise developed by the Stanford d-school.



Participants who take part in this session will be able to…

  1. Understand the design thinking framework and summarize the five stages of design thinking
  2. Use the design thinking approach to map out a way to approach the improvement or development of a product or service
  3. Discuss some of the opportunities & challenges presented by the design thinking approach and address how it differs from other approaches


  1. 0-10 Minutes: Warm-up: Three News & Information Pet Peeves
    1. Have students do the following activity as soon as they walk into class:
    2. On a blank piece of paper, list five things that bother you about the way news and information are gathered, distributed or monetized. Include a sentence for each explaining why that particular issue annoys you.  
    3. When you’re done, trade papers with the person next to you and jot down any quick thoughts you have about one or more of their pet peeves. 
  2. 10-20 Minutes: Experience Blueprint
    1. Move right into the next activity without an immediate debrief on the first activity. 
    2. Explain to students that next they’ll be creating an “experience blueprint,” which is a detailed overview of a process. It includes an exhaustive list of the components of the experience. Why is it useful to have? Once you have that list of components, you are well-positioned to reconsider how the experience works or to find opportunities for improvements.
    3. For example, going to a movie isn’t JUST about sitting and watching. Thinking about the overall experience as a collection of component parts, for example, you might list:
      1. Hearing about a movie or seeing a poster, trailer or ad
      2. Looking up available showtimes on an app or via Google
      3. Deciding what movie to see and what time
      4. Traveling there by car and parking OR traveling on foot or by bike or subway/bus
      5. Waiting in line
      6. Buying the ticket
      7. Choosing/finding/buying food and drink
      8. Selecting and saving a seat
      9. Watching movie trailers and ads
      10. Turning phone off
      11. Watching the movie
      12. Using the restroom
      13. Throwing out any food or drink
      14. Leaving the theater and turning phone back on 
      15. Traveling home
      16. Telling friends 
    4. Now ask students to work individually to create an Experience Blueprint for their commute to school or work. Ask them to include as many detailed steps as possible within the next five minutes. Once they are done, have them exchange papers with a neighbor and discuss their observations briefly.
  3. 20-110 Minutes: Wallet Design Exercise
    1. Now that the students are warmed-up and engaged, let them know that the main event is about to begin. Follow this outline and use the printouts here to run the Stanford d-school wallet design exercise. Here is a PDF of the facilitator’s guide, so you have everything you need to run this activity in class. Suggestion: gather prototyping supplies in advance. Here’s a list of recommended supplies.
  4. 110-130 Minutes: Concluding discussion 
    1. Start with an open-ended question to elicit students’ observations about the process. Then use one of the following models to help them think about the design thinking process they have just been through. PDF of 1st image below. 2nd image.
  5. 130-140 Minutes: 3-2-1 Exit Ticket. Before students depart for the day, have students answer three brief concluding reflection questions on paper or through an online service like Socrative.
    1. What are 3 things you learned/realized?
    2. What are 2 things you’d still like to know more about?
    3. What is 1 question on your mind?


Session Activities
  1. Pet Peeves Game: Listing 5 pet peeves on a piece of paper in order to surface pain points that might signal opportunities for improvement. Ideally these get posted as Post-Its and then grouped together to find themes – areas for potential improvement based on pain points felt by real users (members of this group). 
  2. Experience blueprint (detailing ALL the steps in a news or information-related process in order to break down the experience and understand the micro-opportunities for improving on the status quo, as laid out in the design thinking workshop document)
  3. The wallet design exercise. This is the primary activity to provide a hands-on opportunity to experience the five-stage process by which one would develop a product or service. You can review the Design Thinking for Educators as a great outline for understanding the stages of the process before teaching this. 
Key Concepts to Convey
  1. Design thinking starts with a deep focus on what users actually do, how they behave, what they care about, what they say, feel, think and do. It’s not about what we assume they do, or what we wish/hope/demand that they would do. 
  2. There is a rigorous process to design thinking. It’s not just touchy-feely. There is thorough research that’s done through interviews and observations etc. and through thoughtful and careful interpretation and experimentation. 
  3. It’s important not to start with a solution in mind, but rather to dig for key “How Might We” set of questions that emerge from the user discovery process. Once those questions are in place, they can serve as a helpful jumping off point for small experiments with real people and raw ideas that don’t need to be fully polished at the start, because you are simply testing hypotheses and exploring ideas, not yet creating finished products, which comes later in the process.
Discussion Questions and Topics
  1. What are some cultural, social, technological or other factors that might help explain why design thinking become such a popular and widespread? 
  2. In what kinds of situations does a design thinking approach likely to work particularly well? In what cases might it be especially challenging to use?
Materials Needed
  1. Prototyping supplies (like those on this list or this) for the wallet design exercise.  
  2. Design Thinking Process Guide for students to refer to. This approach uses the “Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test” language for the 5 stages—very close to the Discover, Interpretation, Ideation, Experimentation, Evolution approach. 
  3. Other Stanford DSchool materials are freely available and useful for students to consult or use in future work. 

In the activity, observe whether students are understanding the five stages, and ask some of them individually to explain the five stages of the process. Probe for understanding and examples to assess whether they grasp the process.