Launch Global Education
Sparks blog: Using Design Thinking in the College Process, Part One

by Dr. Ann Wagner

You have probably heard of Design Thinking. It is often attributed to Stanford University, and the University has certainly brought the process to the forefront, but its roots go back many decades. Design Thinking is a way to approach a problem, consider possible solutions, create prototypes, test prototypes, and then evaluate the outcomes. The process is circular, meaning that once you have tested and evaluated a possible solution, you return to the problem with new knowledge to consider your next steps.

In this week’s edition, we will cover the basics of Design Thinking. Then in subsequent blogs we will cover using the process in a few specific ways during your college application process.

The steps

Over the years, people have given different names to the steps of Design Thinking, even though the process is similar. For our purposes, we will use Visualize, Ideate, Prototype, Test, and Evaluate as our terminology. Let’s explore each step below.

stepping stones


This first step is to think about, and then define your problem. What exactly are you trying to solve? Some examples might be narrowing in on a college major, determining your career goals, putting together a college list, or choosing extra-curriculars (we will cover some of these in upcoming blogs). Part of this process is determining what you want to know, which isn’t always clear when you start.

sketched ideas in notebook


This is a fun stage. Your challenge is to come up with as many potential solutions as possible. You should be as creative as possible, challenge common solutions, and seek the ideas of others. Capture these thoughts on a list, or in a journal—any way that makes sense for you. No idea is too crazy or too risky! Don’t censor yourself.

Think honestly about your unique qualities. What excites you? How do you spend your time? What things do you dislike? What are other people’s goals for you? What are your own goals? Your dreams? What is your ideal future? While you may not be able to answer all these questions, they should stimulate your thinking.

woman with an idea


Ok, it is time to try something. Or try a few things. This doesn’t mean you are deciding. You are developing a few thoughts further. Build on your idea. Research it. Let’s say your proposal is to go to school abroad. What would this be like? How might it work?

woman creating a prototype


Now you have a model, a developed idea. It is time to try it. Testing takes time. For example, maybe you’ve started an internship. It might take some time to get comfortable in your work. During this stage you are just experiencing it and learning about it, not deciding about it.


You have tested your prototype. You have given it some time. How did it work? Did it do what you expected? Did you like it? Do you want to continue with this idea? What could you change? How does this help address your problem? Once you answer some of these questions, it is time to go back to your problem. Maybe you haven’t solved it and you need to try something new. Maybe your prototype moved you closer to a solution, or maybe you have a clear solution. This will determine if you circle back through the process and how.

Now that you know a little more about Design Thinking, you can probably imagine many ways to use it. Our upcoming blog posts will show you ways you can use the process specifically for college and career decisions. But don’t limit yourself. Design Thinking can assist you in many ways in your life. Give it a try!

Dr. Ann Wagner

Ann Wagner, EdD is a founder and the Vision Engineer for Launch Education.  Dr. Wagner has led international schools around the world and currently teaches at the university level, working with educators earning their master's degrees.