Design Thinking FAIL

We all get excited when we have an idea about how to engage our students and innovate teaching and learning. What a great idea we think! But what if it all goes wrong?

Yesterday I had a design thinking fail. The process surmounted to terrible irrelevant ideas and even more terrible feedback on them. I was so disappointed. Why did it fail? What did I do wrong? Why can’t these students be creative?

But rather than give up completely (and trust me I was feeling quite deflated after this experience), I decided to go back through the process and see if there was a step missing for them or something we hadn’t done enough of.


I had spent quite a bit of time building empathy of our target groups (refugees, homeless and those in poverty). The students had identified their assumptions and challenged each other on them. They had also explored what others were doing to help these groups. There had been a significant shift in student’s awareness of the needs of these groups. I was confident that the students knew their target group well.


Our overall context for our inquiry is sustainability.  When discussing what this means in the context of people. We grappled with some tricky ideas (keeping in mind these students are Year 4-6). I thought each group knew of an area of need for each group.  This is where I was wrong. My students had thought narrowly in the iteration stage because they didn’t have a handle of what problem they were needing to find solutions for. Because of not knowing the problem they then forget about the user and therefore produced ideas that were half-hearted.

So this is where we began today.  Using the sentence starter “How might we…” they were able to articulate what some of the needs were. They recorded their groups “How might we’s” and then chose one each that they felt they could begin to ideate on.


The aim was 20 ideas in 2 mins (I tried to put the pressure on so they wouldn’t hold their ideas lightly) but they asked for 5 minutes to complete the task. The all then shared their most far out, costly, time consuming idea. This broke some barriers as the more ludicrous the idea the more excited I got. They then reflected on their list to find their easiest fix before identifying their darling. The darling idea needed to be the one they could see their group working together on. Finally some ideas worth exploring!

We are now ready to Prototype!

I think that it is really important to document and share the failures as much as we share the successes.  Teaching isn’t meant to be perfect and a design thinking mindset also would suggest that reflection is important. I was able to reflect on the process and find the missing piece. When I saw one student in particular light up when she realised that her idea was a possibility and that she had the backing of the others in her group, that is when I realised it was all worthwhile.

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