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Become a Design Thinking Facilitator

Lesson 1 of 12

Class Introduction

Lee-Sean Huang

Become a Design Thinking Facilitator

Lee-Sean Huang

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Lesson Info

1. Class Introduction

Lesson Info

Class Introduction

So my name is Lee-Sean Huang, and we're going to talk about becoming a design-thinking facilitator. Now this class presupposes some knowledge about design thinking, what it is. Maybe you took my previous class on design thinking for business innovation, or maybe you've just done it before in some workshop or you've played with the post-its, you've played with the Play Doh and now you're thinking how do I bring this to my team? How do I become the ringleader of this as a facilitator, and make it happen within your own organization? So first, before I give a review of what design thinking is and establish a common vocabulary, I'm just gonna talk about myself and how I got here. I went to grad school at NYU, New York University at a program called ITP, the Interactive Telecommunications Program, which is a hybrid program in art, design, and technology. And I was interested in building new platforms, new tools for expression and experiencing stories and media, so I built things like the he...

adbanger phones up on the top which is basically putting a sensor in a pair of headphones and as the user moved their head, the music would change according to the movements of your head. I also hacked a remote control for a video game console and then turned that into a MIDI controller, a way of playing music using this video game controller. So from there, I got into working in branding and communications, doing work for a variety of organizations from startups to much larger organizations and creating systems of branding, telling stories in a way that's compelling and builds community. More recently I've been doing work in New York City with the government of New York City on a project called Design for Financial Empowerment, where we worked with financial counselors, clients, and administrators to design new ways, new touchpoints for financial counseling clients in New York. So finding ways to get them to stay in the program longer so they can meet their financial goals. Through all of this, I've had to be not just a designer, a craftsman who makes things in a studio on a computer, but I have to facilitate diverse groups of people. That could be anyone from service providers of a public service, or clients, users of a product, and then various clients, everyone from the CEO down to the project managers to front-line service employees, and that requires getting people on the same page to collaborate creatively together. And so that's how I got into design thinking, as a design consultant, we would go through these processes and then our clients would ask us how do we facilitate this ourselves? Right, I really wanna give my clients the tools to bring this to their own organizations so they can really internalize these processes. So let's review design thinking and what it means. Design thinking really is about balancing different needs and priorities. So with design thinking in the middle, DT, we're starting with the user needs, starting with human empathy. What do people need, what do they want, how do we fulfill those needs, how do we fulfill their pain points, how do we deal with that? Then we have our business goals. What makes sense for a company, what are the metrics, what are these goals that we have to meet, these targets that we have to meet? And then we have the technical feasibility. What is currently possible with the technology, with the design, with all the things that we can actually do right now? So coming out of that Venn diagram, we can define design thinking as a shared working definition, as a method and as a mindset for framing problems up and then finding solutions to those problems. Design thinking is simple but it's not easy. So the steps that we'll see here are fairly simple and it's really intuitive, it's not that different from the scientific method or from child's play, really. These are the natural instincts of creativity and problem solving that we develop as humans, that we all have, but often we live or work in cultural or organizational contexts that train us to be not intuitive, right? It forces us to be critical all of the time or we shut down creativity and we're not able to tap into that potential, so design thinking is just a method of tapping into our inherent human potential. Like I said before, it involves starting with empathy, so really understanding people and their needs, what's going on in their heads, what's going on in their hearts. It also requires us to reframe problems. It's not just simple problem solving, it's not just strategy, but it's really thinking about not just solving something in the most obvious way but reframing something. So thinking about if you have say, a city that's on two sides of a river, simple problem solving would say okay, let's just build a bridge to connect the two sides. But reframing the problem makes us think more broadly. Do we need a bridge or can we put in a ferry, can we put in a zip line, are there other ways to connect the two sides and why do we need to connect the two sides? We can also look through the lens of needs, starting from that human empathy, but then also looking at existing social norms. Whenever we're designing some sort of innovation, we wanna think about how the norms can change, and so what are these social norms of behavior, of culture, that are keeping the status quo in place? So it reminds me of Henry Ford and his quote about faster horses, right? So before the automobile was invented, people just went around on these horse-driven buggies and carriages, and if we just kept on with that maybe they would've implemented faster and faster buggies, that were more aerodynamic or lighter shelled but we wouldn't get to automobiles, we wouldn't get to cars and so they had to change the norms with this novelty of taking the horses away and figuring out another way to power the carriages. And then one of the final points here is thinking about design thinking as a process of making and doing, so in some ways the thinking part of design thinking is a misnomer, it's not just about thinking, it's not just strategy like I said before, but it's about making, making low-fidelity prototypes to think our way forward and not just analyzing things in our heads, building models, all in our heads, and talking about them, but actually making stuff so we can show and then from there we can iterate and build from there. So at my company FOOSA, we're actually named after an animal from Madagascar, if you look at our logo it's supposed to be a paw print from this foosa animal from Madagascar, so we like to come up with different animal mascots to help us remember things and so the first mascot that you'll be introduced to today is Benny the Blowfish, and the blowfish is a way of thinking about the different mindsets that we're translating between in the design thinking process. So we have to be both pliant and prickly. So this is my napkin drawing of Benny the Blowfish, but this is what a real blowfish looks like when the blowfish is all puffed up, he's prickly, right? So that's what we're like when we're being critical, when we're really saying like will this work, does this meet our business needs, when you're really advocating and doubling down on your ideas. But then sometimes you just have to be more pliant. You just go with the flow, this is yes and thinking that allows you to explore new terrain. This sometimes forces you to be silly or have conversations that aren't immediately obviously, they're not obviously connected to what you're trying to do but it requires you to think outside of these boxes, think outside of these paradigms and existing norms so you can explore new territory. Benny the Blowfish also reminds us of these different aspects of creativity and design thinking. So starting with human empathy, we need to explore the inner world, what's going on in somebody's mind, what's going on in their hearts, what are they thinking, what are they feeling. We also need to explore the contemporary context, so what's going on in pop culture. What are competitors doing, what is the industry doing? So once we understand that, that helps us ideate, helps us come up with different ideas, and helps us understand constraints as well, what is currently possible and where can we push these boundaries. We can also learn from the past. So what's historical precedent? It's not that history is cyclical and will repeat itself but there are patterns from the past that will affect the present and the future, so how can we learn from those lessons and then refine that. And then finally, we also have to look forward, so we're always designing in context of time, in our present moment looking at past precedents, but also looking at the future, right? If you're trying to innovate for something, create a new product, create a new service, you're designing that for the near future but you're also designing that for the far future. So your targets aren't just about where the world is today but where the world will be or may be five, 10 years from the future. So I'm doing a whole nother class on futurecasting where we'll go into details on that but for now, we'll just think about thinking about the future as one of the orientations and part of the mindset of design thinking. One way to visualize the design thinking process is in this loop and these are just the words that I use and there's other variants to these words. So we'll start at 12 o'clock at the top. First is discovery. So this is the empathy part, this is understanding people, understanding their needs, their feelings, their emotions. It's also understanding the industry, understanding your constraints of what's possible. That requires us to be pliant, right? We have to be open-minded, take in a lot of things, cast a wide net. The next stage is define. This is when we have to be a little bit prickly. We have to be strategic about prioritizing our time, our attention, defining some specific subset of a problem that's big enough that we can be creative but not so big that it's just too big, too squishy, too broad that we can't really do anything about it in the near term. From there, we ideate, so that's casting a wide net again, being pliant again, being open to a lot of possibilities. Sometimes that means being a little silly or coming up with some bad ideas that help us get to the good ideas. From there we're gonna narrow down again and be a little bit prickly again in our prototypes. We're going to choose a small number of prototypes that we're going to move forward based on our business needs, our user needs, and other constraints and other criteria. Then we'll test those prototypes with our users in real life and then we'll repeat the process again. So this is not really a linear process, you might be jumping around. Think about this as a compass, as a roadmap, but it's not something where you have to go prescriptively one after the other. There's all sorts of variations, call them dialects of design thinking, and that really depends on the company that is selling these services or the process of a consultancy. So this is based on some research by Stephanie Joya who looked at different design firms and the names that they use for their process and how it maps more or less to each other, right? So you could call it discover at the beginning or you could call it inspiration, you could call it research, but they're more or less the same phases that are repeated over time, and so when you take this to your own organization you may choose to use language that works for your brand, you don't have to use my labels or steps, you can see that companies do this all the time to put their own mark on things, but the basics are really not that different. So we've talked about mindsets already for design thinking more broadly. If you're going to do facilitation work as a design thinking facilitator, you can think about yourself most obviously as a facilitator, as a teacher, right? You're imparting knowledge, you're teaching skills. But there's other mindsets to think about. You're also a shepherd, you're a herder, you have to be a few steps ahead. You don't have to be an expert, you don't necessarily have to know so much more than everybody else, right? The people you're facilitating might be the subject matter experts of their domain. You don't have to know more than them. The whole point of this facilitation is to bring experts in their own domains, into the process and you're just the guide, you're just the Sherpa. Another mindset to think about is being a fitness instructor and you also have to think about what works for your team and for the people that you're facilitating. So maybe you're more chill and namaste as a yoga instructor or you're more of like a bootcamp guy, right? So you can be good cap, you could be bad cop and that is part of this mindset that shifts, right? It's thinking about translating between these different personalities at different points in time. Sometimes you wanna be a little bit more hands-off, just let people explore, just let people play and other times you wanna be more drill sergeant and you have to say things like okay, you have five minutes to come up with something. Just to really keep that momentum going and so that's really an instinct that you'll cultivate and something where you just have to read the social cues of the team based on who you know and how people respond.

Class Description

So you’ve done your homework and you now understand what design thinking is and the power it has to revolutionize the way you do business. But the only way it can really have an impact is if key players throughout your organization embrace design thinking principles and are willing to put them into practice.

Basically, you need to become a design thinking evangelist, coach and trainer. This course will instruct you on how to explain the method and mindset for creative problem framing and solving and show others how to implement this innovative process.

In this class, you’ll learn how to:

  • Make the case for learning design thinking.
  • Introduce and teach design thinking to others.
  • Facilitate engaging learning experiences.
  • Teach "mindset," not just "method."
  • Sustain interest and engagement throughout the training process.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Design Thinking Resources

Bonus Materials with RSVP

Getting Started with Adobe Stock

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

Related Classes


Darwin Antipolo

The course fits my need in supplementing my DT facilitation activities. It was well designed, paced properly and full of useful tips. Thank you!

Carlos Encalada

This follow-up to Lee-Sean's Design Thinking for Business Innovation helped me to strategize and envision how I would bring these principles into my agency context. I look forward to using his guidance during this workshop in a way that is appropriate to a community healthcare setting.


There is a lot of common facilitator knowledge and skills shared in this course. The course was useful for me and helped me connecting the dots.