“Other than an orange traffic cone, what else could this object be?”

My challenge group was asked this question as a creative warm-up exercise during our most recent project with Detroit Public Schools (DPS).

A hat, a leaky ice cream cone, a peg leg? A megaphone, or maybe a sand castle mold?


As part of our Challenge Detroit experience, we learn and practice design thinking. In a nutshell, design thinking is a process of rapidly prototyping iterations of potential solutions after empathizing with the user. With DPS, for example, we met with and interviewed parents and caregivers, teachers, and students to learn more about the current state of parental engagement. From there, we spend the next five weeks building tools to improve less effective areas. The idea is to get useable solutions into the hands of the people they are designed for so they can be tested and adapted as needed to create a quality and usable product.

By experiencing the design process in our first two challenges, many of us have noticed it’s transformative effects. After better understanding through empathizing, the fellows operate under new perspectives, make connections with community members, and ultimately become more deeply rooted within the city and topics within Detroit. My eyes opened to the fact that although I am not a DPS parent, I have a direct role as a community member to the success of students and families around me, and there are opportunities for me to support and receive support from those around me.

As we moved through our last challenge, I noticed opportunities to involve those around us in the design thinking process.  What if the parents themselves felt empowered and had the design thinking toolkit to identify internal opportunities for improvement? As the fellows develop our skills, can we facilitate others’ learning and help create closed loop design thinking within organizations?

How might we continuously expand the reach of the transformative power of design thinking?