Design Thinking Lesson 2 of 7: Define

Length of Project:
Project theme:
Suitable for grades:
Tools & Materials
Material List
  • Design Thinking Template and notes from Lesson 1
  • scrap paper
  • Two hats/bowls/etc to draw papers from
Tool list
  • Pencil
  • Optional

  • computer or tablet with word processor and sketching app

    Before you begin

  1. Rewrite the following six steps on the board if necessary: Step 1 Empathize, Step 2 Define, Step 3 Ideate, Step 4 Prototype, Step 5 Test, Step 6 Make, Step 7 Share and Reflect.
  2. Opening activity for defining

  3. Set up two hats full of scraps of paper for students to draw from. One hat is full of an even number of “designer” and “client”. The second hat is full of project options, such as “boat”, “doghouse”, “child’s bed”, “ukulele hard case”, “hot chocolate mug”, “rain jacket”, “chef’s knife”, “greenhouse”, “kid’s toy car”, “playground swing”, etc.
  4. Each student draws from the designer/client hat. Each client finds a designer to work with, and they both draw ONE slip out of the project hat.
  5. Give students 1 minute of silent thinking time: Clients imagine what they want to order from the designer, eg, if they picked “doghouse”, do they want a gigantic outdoor doghouse for two Great Danes? Will it be a tiny, heated doghouse for a Chihuahua? Etc. Designers imagine the questions they want to ask the clients to figure out the details for building it, eg, what kind of dog is the doghouse for (how big does the doghouse need to be)? What is the weather usually like where you will be using the doghouse (does it need to be insulated? Waterproof?)
  6. Give each client-designer pair five minutes to perform an “interview”, where they ask questions and discuss the product to determine: materials used, approximate budget/cost, what exactly the object designed will be used for, approximate size or dimensions needed, and how the client will “know” when the object or project is “just right”.
  7. If you have time, and the students are into it, have them swap client and designer roles, then replace the project slips and do a re-draw so they can work with a new product.
  8. Bring the class back together and have a discussion on the following questions: Clients, how did you describe how you’d “know” when the design they made you would be a success? Designers, what kinds of parameters or limitations did you determine that you would have to work or design within?
  9. Re-introduce the class to your design challenge at hand. Read through the challenge’s overview, design rationale, and the “problem scenario” with or for students. Try to tie it into their daily life: making connections to objects the use, experiences they may have, the problems they may face, etc.
  10. Read through the design challenge’s “success determinants” with the class. What exactly is it that the solution we design needs to be or do? Are there processes along the way that will determine success, eg, formative assessment opportunities such as completing design sketches? You may choose to keep the success determinants as set by the design challenge, or you could open it up to the students for their input, and make a list of 5 or so of their own. This can create a sense of buy-in and investment for the project from students. Have students record the final list in their template, or have someone type out or take a photo of the list on the board (to print and add to their design journal, or to refer to digitally).
  11. Next, discuss (and adjust and record as necessary) the design challenge’s “parameters”. These will be things like: What tools can be used, what (and how much of the) materials can be used, minimum/maximum dimensions, maximum allowable waste/scraps, etc. This is an excellent opportunity to discuss the costs of materials, the environmental impacts of the use and disposal of certain materials, etc. Have students record the final list in their template, or have someone type out or take a photo of the list on the board (to print and add to their design journal, or to refer to digitally).
  12. Closing activity

  13. Have students to refer to the list of interview questions they made in lesson 1. Get them to identify any questions that need to be re-worded (or new questions that need to be added) based on their “success determinant” and “parameters” lists. Give them time to refine their questions list or assign it for homework.
Extension Challenges
  1. Get students to look into materials costs for their projects. For example, what kinds of lumber are available that could work to make a woodwork project? Does it have to be a specific size or type of wood, or can you make your design based on the materials available? Would it be possible to design a project based on scrap or reclaimed wood? Where would you source this sort of thing?
  2. Design a mini research project where each student or group of students is assigned a potential material they could work with (eg, if the design challenge is to make customized bird houses, you could assign “cedar”, “mdf”, “baltic birch plywood”, “reclaimed pallet wood”, “2x4 offcuts from building site”, etc.). Have them find out the environmental impacts of sourcing and producing the material, as well as the disposal of scraps and the whole project when it’s done being useful. Are there any environmental or health concerns while building with said material? Is there any recommended PPE they should wear while working with it?
Suggest an Edit