Educating the Design Thinkers of Tomorrow


First day at school

My Daughter

My first-born started her school journey this autumn. It’s the same school that I attended 30 years ago, a respected and multicultural school, back then quite a traditional one – discipline based, classroom centric, the teacher standing in front of the class, the pupils listening. It still is a good school, but I already have come to notice some important changes.

The first graders’ theme for the first weeks has been their hometown Helsinki. They have already made many excursions (e.g. Children’s town at the City Museum), spent time outside of school moving and observing their environment (e.g. how many cyclists use helmets) and learnt through their own experience (e.g. mapping how they travel to school). Currently, they are building in teams a city block, which involves planning, discussing different alternatives, making decisions together and executing their plans. The number one hit has been the intelligent carpet, a huge iPad as my daughter says, for doing math exercises, memory games and other cool stuff with your feet. A big thank you goes out to the progressive thinking and creativity of the class teacher. She acts rather as a facilitator and coach in the knowledge creation process than as the knowledge provider, like in the traditional teaching approach.


The “Intelligent Carpet” in action!


Whether the school’s management and teachers are talking about Design Thinking when planning the curriculum or teaching methods is secondary. Most important is what they are doing and how they are doing it. The fact is that the school’s teaching approach celebrates the ideology and values of Design Thinking, such as human-centricity, empathy, multidisciplinary thinking, holistic approach, creativity, collaboration, playfulness and visualization of thoughts. Also the phases and methods are similar to those used in Design Thinking, such as the design process introduced by IDEO for educators: discovery, interpretation, ideation, experimentation and evolution. Most importantly, the pupils are taught to think on their own and exercise analytical thinking, mixing facts and rational thinking with feelings and emotions. I truly hope they also learn to tolerate uncertainty and risk-taking and accept that doing mistakes and failures is an important part of the process. This wasn’t self-evident when I went to school.


I also started a new study journey this autumn in Service Innovation and Design (SID) at Laurea University of Applied Sciences. I am full of excitement and motivation! It is very different from that excitement as a freshman at University 20 years ago. After working intensively for the past decade I really know what interests me, I can draw from my own and others’ experiences, I am able to take different perspectives and I truly am ready to learn new things.

During our first course and intensive study weekend on Design Thinking we worked on a real-time challenge/opportunity, “Studying at Laurea”, using methods and steps of Mindshake’s Evolution 62 Design Thinking Model.


Mindshake Design Thinking Model

With our team “Wrinkle Girls” we

  • Used in the Emergence phase opportunity mind mapping in order to identify our intent statement “Service Design Popup Community”,
  • Drew a stakeholder map and carried out image interviews to come up with a moodboard in the Empathy phase,
  • Did brainwriting and insight clustering in the Experimentation phase to build a desktop walkthrough – here we got to play with legos (!),
  • Drew a service blueprint in the Elaboration phase to describe the service interactions of our idea and
  • Developed finally in the Exposition phase a visual business model to image our first solution and concept of the “Service Busters”, a service tool helping current and former SID students and third parties in their design efforts.

“Service Busters” desktop walkthrough

What struck me during our two days of intensive working is how quickly we came up with a viable business model using Design Thinking tools – together with people prior unknown to each other, drawing on the thoughts of one another, what in the beginning seemed like a big mess but in the end got formulated into a structured service idea. And we had fun doing it!

My Daughter + Me = We

Reflecting back on the first weeks of my daughter going to school and my own studies, it’s funny how we are learning new things with quite the same methods, she unconsciously and me more theoretically. We are both preparing ourselves to deal with the uncertain future and the continuously changing world – we are on our way to becoming the Design Thinkers of Tomorrow, together!

Written by: Kristina Noor-Ilander



TSCHIMMEL, Katja et al. (2015). Research Report D-Think. Design Thinking Applied to Education and Training. ERASMUS+. KA2 Strategic Partnerships.

Riverdale & IDEO (2012). Design Thinking for Educators.

Mindshake Design Thinking Principles and Design Thinking Model Evolution 62 (25 Sept, 2016)

Harvard Business Review (September 2015). Spotlight on the Evolution of Design Thinking, p. 55-85.

9 thoughts on “Educating the Design Thinkers of Tomorrow

  1. Loved the down-to-earth-perspective to the subject, thank you! The examples of your daughter and yourself made the text interesting and easy to read. Your daughter’s school sounds like a great place to study.

    • Thank you, Katri, for your kind words! It felt very natural and I couldn’t resist writing about this topic. There are promising developments happening at Finnish schools at the moment with the new curriculum, the HundrED project (my daughters class is participating) running and the City of Helsinki publishing a Design Path for the comprehensive schools. I would say the future lays in good hands.

  2. Nice to see another post with similar, education perspective.
    It’s great to know that finnish schools are already developing even further, in this bright direction.
    I usually say I wish I’d gone to a finnish school, you know, where art and play are taken as serious as math. Unfortunately that’s not the case of majority of the educational systems worldwide. They undermine the development of creative thinking. The good news is that’s at least NOW at SID I get to experience the finnish way of learning too!

  3. Fascinating to hear about your daughter’s school, Kristina. My nephew in America is 12, and he’s taking an “intro to neuroscience” class this semester. That was the first reality check about modern education that blew my mind this week. Your post was the second — a first grader researching how many cyclists wear helmets, mapping their commute, and planning a city block with teammates?! Amazing!

    As I mentioned to Livia, I feel like design thinking has already seeped into Western education in many ways — as your post points out — but I’m wondering if design thinking can help us take childhood education to the next level: helping our kids find true fulfillment in life. In many ways, I feel like education has been optimized to help students “succeed” financially in life (get the skills to be a productive working member of society), but not to help students succeed emotionally in life. I wonder if what we’re learning at Laurea could help us design that?

  4. Thank you Kristina for sharing this from a personal perspective. It’s also been a while since I was in the educational system so I really don’t know that much about what is going on there except for the random news articles. How wonderful to hear that a lot of forward thinking is happening & things have changed from my time in the system. I feel more reassured about the near future when my child will start his educational path, where design thinking methods is part of the new norm. You had a great reflection on how your daughters teacher is more of a facilitator than merely a provider of knowledge. Also @jallen300 ,interesting reflection on DT in education as helping students succeed emotionally. /Kristina

  5. Thank you Kristina for an inspiring blog. I liked the way you paralleled your daughter’s and your new steps in life. Your daughter’s school sounds so inspiring! So different than mine some decades ago. As many already know that there has been curriculum reform in elementary schools in Finland. The new curriculum should support pupils to be active knowledge seekers instead of passive listeners. Extensive knowledge is the new goal of Finnish elementary school. It sounds ambitious and it’s clearly a challenge for teaches as well as pupils and parents. I’m waiting to hear experiences from pupils, parents and teachers.

  6. Thank You for your “we” -post. I especially liked the educational perspective and that, no matter how young or old you are, the learning process is always there. And that design thinking can be something easy and anyone can participate on it. I am also happy to hear that children’s studying methods are developing and their school life sounds like a lot of fun. Education is important subject and I cannot even imagine, what is out there in the future.

  7. Kristina, I love your personal viewpoint when you compare your own studies to your daughter’s school. The Finnish school system has been proven to be excellent and the introduction of “phenomenon” teaching or teaching by topic (instead of teaching by subject) will make it even better. Teaching by topic will surely give more room for creativity. It will also build up a good basis for the mindset that a Design Thinker needs.

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