School by Design

Inspiring student-centered, intentionally designed schools

3 Layers of Learning Design Thinking

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Teaching Design Thinking is one of the most exciting trends I’m seeing in K-12 schools. Not only is it a great way to engage students in solving real-world problems, but it also develops their problem solving skills, their creative confidence, collaboration abilities and the list goes on. I’m currently developing a Design Thinking curriculum for a great organization, and I developed this visual to represent the different layers that a class on Design Thinking addresses. The main thing to note is that the class should not ultimately be only about Process Execution or even Process Skills, because the real power of Design Thinking is in the Process Attitudes.

Hope you find it helpful – and I would love your feedback! (in the comments or on twitter @EmanAbouelatta)

Layers of Design Thinking


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d.Tool: CRUMBS

*d.Tools are solutions that help d.thinkers leverage the design thinking process to its fullest.



You use CRUMBS to quickly test parts of your prototype as opposed to always testing it as a whole. This is helpful when you need to: deal with limited time, isolate variables or make quick progress.

  1. If you have an elaborate prototype that can only be tested next week, you can pick small parts of it and test them separately through out this wait period.
  2. If you’re not sure why your prototype fell apart in testing, divide it into crumbs and test each to identify the stuck points.
  3. And, if your team is overwhelmed with having to create a big prototype, have them create and test crumbs instead, thus creating a momentum of “little wins” that arms them for the big prototype.

HOW to use CRUMBS?

Start with determining what the separable parts of your prototype are. Perhaps you are designing students’ first day of school, where the “separable parts” would be: walking into school, meeting other students, attending orientation and having lunch.

Then, consider how you can divide these parts into crumbs that are small, yet will provide meaningful answers when tested. In doing so, consider not only the core things you’re testing but also the small decisions you’re making along the way. For example, one crumb could be: “getting to the assembly room, where the orientation is”. The question we’re trying to answer would be: “how do we best help students find the assembly room?” Although this is not a major concern in your bigger endeavor of designing the first day of school, it is part of the day, and therefore is worth designing! Crumbs can help you make the decision on how to “help people find the room” easily, and in a user-centered manner.

Finally, think of how you’ll prototype and test the crumb, regardless of your bigger prototype. For example, you can tell your friend to meet you at the assembly room, and send her directions on email. Then try it with another friend using signage. This way, you get useful insights without worrying about the big prototype! And, you don’t even disrupt your day!


Crumbs should be testable with minimal setup, in less than 10 minutes.