Design thinking has evolved at Montana State University prominently through the Blackstone LaunchPad and it's student organization, LaunchCats. Through a series of innovative work shops we have introduced the design thinking curriculum made famous by David Kelly, founder of IDEO. Design thinking may be the future of education and is the beginning of a much-needed movement toward cognitive learning. Here at the Blackstone LaunchPad, the design thinking process is the backbone of our idea generation process for start ups and their trajectory into the marketplace. 

Design thinking is a process of divergent thinking. Divergent refers to a thought process used to come to many possible solutions rather than one correct answer, or convergent thinking. Traditional teaching has focused on analytical ideas and correct answers, but in today’s world of technology, anything analytical or data driven can be found through the internet and its many resources. Lets teach each other how to think and problem solve, not how to memorize. Students come to the Blackstone LaunchPad at Montana State for these very reasons. By helping young entrepreneurs over come unforeseen obstacles, through a new way of thinking, opposite of the traditional classroom, the Blackstone LaunchPad at Montana State is elevating education and economic value throughout our community.  

The design thinking process has many renditions but more popularly narrowed down to 5 critical and imperative steps for successful problem solving. Here, we will discuss the 5 process focal points emphasized at the Blackstone LaunchPad: empathy, define, ideate, prototype and test.


  • learning about the audience for who we are designing

As a key role and internally the most important factor leading to great ideas, empathetic research allows designers to understand the consumer. When studying the consumer, put yourself in their intimate space and seek to understand them much deeper than surface demographics and simple psychographics. To be fully empathetic for consumers we must understand what drives their emotional behaviors through real world experiences. Knowing their needs, desires and aspirations within specific cultures and environments only scratches the surface of empathetic research. Dive deeper and ask questions. Keep in mind, as technology changes, consumer behaviors do to.


  • redefining and focusing your question based on your insights from empathy

The define stage takes the work done in the empathy stage and focuses key ideas and trends into a design challenge.  This challenge must be specific and work as guidelines and criteria for the process to come. This question may be something such as “How might we…?”


  • brainstorming and coming up with creative solutions

The ideate phase of design thinking is the most fragile.  A bad apple on any team can create a toxic environment. Here, designers strive for crazy brainstorming with possible and impossible idea generation. By getting out obvious ideas first, teammates can work together to generate innovative extravagant solutions. By finding synergy amongst your team, designers work to build from each others ideas and create something special and unique. Keep in mind every idea is great and a say yes attitude keeps positive idea generation moving.


  • building a representation of many of your ideas to show others

After ideating many potential solutions, designers must prototype. The most important aspect during the prototype phase is to fail fast. Build prototypes quickly and cheaply to show consumers and receive feedback. Through very simple wireframes, designers can receive basic feedback from others and quickly modify and redesign prototypes. Go back to the drawing board and continue to prototype many concepts until you have refined something testable.


  • returning to your original user group and testing your ideas

At the testing phase, designers are solidifying their prototype and receiving critical feedback for finite refinements. Often the testing phase may send designers back to the ideation phase to continue the process again.  Execute.

Design thinking is the future of education and creative problem solving. By following these 5 steps, designers can effectively solve problems small and big. Join us at the Blackstone LaunchPad at Montana State and engage in the co-curricular concept we have created and continually work towards within the LaunchCats organization. Our Good Company events all follow this curriculum and 5 step process. How might we use the design thinking process to better the design thinking process?

Written by: Sam Lucas, Marketing Account Manager at the MSU Blackstone launchPad