Design Thinking: It's All About Your Consumer

We all know the Golden Rule “do unto others as you would do unto you.” In fact, I grew up learning this was the highest standard. However, later on in my life, I was introduced to the concept, “do unto others as they would do unto themselves.” The Platinum Rule, as it’s called, acknowledges that in order to help someone, we need to understand what they want, not what we think they want. SOURCE taught me that in the professional realm, this is known as Design Thinking.
Recently, SOURCE hosted Chris Johnson, Campaign Marketing Manager at Biola University, to lead us in a workshop on user-centered design thinking. Johnson emphasized how this approach was about creating a perfect fit for the end user instead of a product that would appeal to a wide consumer base. To teach us the design thinking process, Johnson broke it down into four steps and had us apply each step in designing a wallet for our partners.

  1. Interview– I first interviewed my partner, or “client,” on how he used his current wallet and what he liked and disliked about it. Probing questions such as “What would make your current wallet 10x better?” gave me keen insight into his specific wants.
  2. Define the Problem– This stage was about taking the insights I gathered about my partner’s needs to identify the problem. In this case, I discovered that my partner felt there was unnecessary and unaesthetic bulk to his wallet’s design.
  3. Ideate– Rather than trying to hit the mark right away of what a client would want (and likely miss), Johnson said to ideate from the extremes and then work inwards. I drew four designs, each one overemphasizing a certain quality. This variety allowed me to determine what characteristics really resonated with my partner.
  4. Prototype and Test– The prototype stage is where I streamlined the feedback I received from my four separate designs into one product. I modeled the wallet with cardboard paper, representative of crafting a rough draft of the deliverable, to confirm that this was in fact what my partner, or “client,” envisioned and needed.

Because of the workshop, I’ve begun to see consulting not as a “product delivery,” but as an ongoing conversation and adjustment. In fact, this process I learned translated perfectly into my real work, where this past semester my team set out to determine how to best advertise a rental space. In talking with our client, we discovered the weak points in their current rental process and what made their rental space unique to them. We then suggested multiple marketing avenues and changes to their internal structure. These examples diagnosed what appealed to our client and allowed us to produce a solution that really connected with their mission. Without these insights, we would not have been able to tackle the root issues or leverage our client’s resources to their potential.
This design thinking strategy does not only apply to physical products in the profit-making world, but can also affect how nonprofits approach their programming, funding, and volunteer outreach strategies. As an exercise (for nonprofits), think about how you can apply this design thinking process to your volunteering program, restructuring it to better aid your volunteers in helping your organization.
If you are interested in learning more about the Human Centered Design Thinking approach, here are some helpful resources that can bring your nonprofit to the next level: – Design Kit is’s platform to learn human-centered design, a creative approach to solving the world’s most difficult problems. Institute of Design at Stanford – This resource provides a free online 90-minute crash course guide on user design