FRUSTRATING Online Design Thinking Course

I have been seeing a lot of this lately, certificates for Design Thinking being taught by various different schools. It all started with Stanford’s but now has moved to every school under the sun. I have always been frustrated with the concept that someone can take a class and come out thinking they have the skills that have taken the rest of us years to perfect. On the flip side I am ok with using them to get informed and hiring the right people for the job, unfortunately that is not what they are teaching.

This ad from Cornell keeps popping up in my Facebook. Not only is it a DT certificate, it is taught all ONLINE. How do you teach empathy, prototyping, synthesis, iteration, collaboration, etc… online? That’s just absurd.

Tuition collection device. :slight_smile:

I’ve seen it with a few client workshops. Sometimes I’ll be asked to come in and run an innovation workshop, something I did a lot of at frog. Before hand sometimes I’ll be given a heads up of “be sensitive to so and so, he took a design thinking class and so thinks he knows about this stuff” … it is fine, but sometimes it gets into the whole “a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing” space with the wrong personalities. I usually spend a bit of extra time with those folks over drinks or dinner, before hand if possible.

Yeah I hear ya. In my new role, I was actually hired by a guy that took a course at Stanford. He saw it as an opportunity and hired me to help him create it. That is the way this should be handled and what they should be teaching.


Just because you attended a single class doesn’t make you an expert in Human Centered Design. You shouldn’t make an effort to implement HCD or design thinking into a meeting, it should come natural.

The Luma Workplace has been a great online resource which has helped me kickstart projects and get things moving. To designers, this stuff is nothing new, but the way they arrange different methods of product development is worth looking into.

You shouldn’t make an effort to implement HCD or design thinking into a meeting, it should come natural.

Would you mind expanding on this ‘natural’ idea?

I’ve had one masters level course in HCD so far - an overview of the entire process. Based on the range of readings, the elements of ‘design thinking’ or HCD or whatever any company or agency wants to call it are basically the same, but emphasize one phase or another based on their specific expertise and where they want to play. e.g. Frog would probably be more on the execution/implementation and IDEO on the anthropology/frameworks. (just guessing here).

The one course I’ve had was populated with about 50% certificate students, who do something like 18 credits rather than the MS 48+ credits. I don’t know what value the certificate would have in the marketplace although its feasible that a good range of skills and methodologies could be learned and applied.

Is it possible to do all online? I’d say ‘yes, but’ … it would be truncated or somewhat amputated. You can’t really do contextual inquiry on-line, except for perhaps a very limited range of subjects. Group meetings and brainstorming are better in-person. We had group projects and used Slack and G-Suite extensively for online collaboration, but they weren’t as fruitful or creative as the live sessions. Lectures and reading of course could be administered on-line, as could quizzes, but we didn’t have any quizzes or tests.

To combine an esteemed college brand with the words “design thinking” in order to charge $xxxxx.xx for a ‘certificate’ of debatable market value seems like the cynical view but I’d agree with yo’s take above, its the most likely reason why you see more advertising for these things.

I think this probably sums up most of that online course :smiley:


Not that there is anything wrong with learning new techniques, tools, and methodologies. Sometimes I get the feeling though that these kinds of courses are like someone needing to fix their old BMW 2002 and then charging them a lot of money for shiny new set of metric socket-wenches and saying “you can do it!” … maybe that works for some people

Tools don’t equal ability, whether that be a set of Copics, a CAD platform, or a set of design thinking methodologies and exercises.

In the right hands those socket-wrenches can get a lot of work done though.

You guys will love this…this Spring I’m teaching a course on Creativity and Innovation at UC, Irvine - it’s part of their Innovation Certificate (go ahead, shake your heads, lol) but I’ll be teaching this course as a piece of guidance to enable marketing, sales, C suite executives and entrepreneurs to better understand and bring the business value of good design to their operations. Also, although I’ll be reinforcing that everyone can be creative, I’ll be explaining how true innovation is most often the result of the lengthy process we all know by heart. Although innovation CAN be by happenstance, we know that’s a rare, lucky result. The important thing to remember about these courses is that they are not meant as a replacement to a true design education, they’re targeted to business leaders who are continual learners and want to expand on their awareness of the value of design.

Out of curiosity I signed up to get a prospectus for the course. They wanted $6,000 to undertake it! Not only is that shocking and laughable but they have spammed me with used car salesman like cheap marketing for months. The latest one I got was entitled “Your enrollment date” even though I have never shown interest beyond wanting to see a course prospectus. It also has 30% off the sale price in the email, which has been going up and up each time they spam me.

Really sad to see education go this way.

What I like is that people without design abilities, particularly management, can take these courses and learn a little bit more about design. What then happens is they often come away and are ready to revolutionise their stagnant business by using design (which I think is a good thing). The problem I think though is that they often come away thinking they are now designers and what I find is NEVER taught is that if they want implement design thinking then employ a designer.

I have been to a few of these courses run by academics who haven’t designed anything apart from a course based on studies about companies they have never worked for. Overall though, I think the whole design thinking thing has run its course (BOOM!).

I’m assuming you priced the Cornell class? That’s a crazy price indeed!

I believe some of these programs are doing a better job - UCI sought me out because they consider me a subject matter expert and preferred having me teach the course as opposed to, like you describe, an academic who might only have a script to follow. I’m breaking away from the examples they provided, both for the course sessions and for a webinar I’ll host. Think Robert Reich visual whiteboard stories + a little drunk history + some interview style from-the-field storytelling to support the various bullet items required. It’ll either be a refreshing success or disastrous :slight_smile:

Sounds interesting, hope it goes well for you. We had a product design studio over here close down a couple of years ago so that the owner could just do a design thinking tour. I think it was an easier sell.

I’ve been doing a lot of workshop moderation as well. It is fun and overall a good engagement for everyone as long as it is results focussed. lot of times it can be a good use of an outside resource since internal folks might be heads down busy or need the objective view point. I always ask people what success looks like for them before I do the research and prep work. This particular client from late last year said “Well, we have done these before and people always feel great immediately after and then two months later they say what did we pay all that money for… so success would be the team still feeling good about it a few months later”. I thought that was a great goal, and a frustration I shared when I was on the client side as well. It was nice to check in with the client a few months later to find that people felt good about it and where tracking.

In my experience, these design thinking programs require a few things beyond the typical lateral thinking exercises:

  1. rigorous sorting and ranking
  2. clear defined next steps and action items assigned to people
  3. a post workshop “treatment” phase that visualizes and documents all the ideas

I think this is where it is beneficial to have someone familiar with product development running the session. To sort and rank you have to have some kind of understanding about how the realized concept will impact the business and the kinds of investments it will take to get there in time, money, and opportunity costs. To clearly define next steps it helps if you have brought a bunch of things to market or fruition and lived with success or failure of those things. Lastly to visually and intellectually “treat” the ideas it helps if you understand the right mix of showing the idea, getting people excited, and not getting too bogged down in the details that will change (where being a seasoned product development person can hurt if you are not careful)

So, macro point here, I don’t think that can be taught in an online seminar or even a one week class. In addition to all of that there are so many soft skills to learn.

If the online seminar is about excitement and awareness, that is great, but hopefully you will be clear with people that based on this alone they will have no ability to successfully run one of these sessions unless they are already skilled somehow. Or if the audience for the seminar is people who already do this kind of thing and they want to get better, learn a few new skills and add a couple of tools to their toolbox, that could also be good in my opinion.

Yes. I expected $1,200 to $1,500 for some online class thing. $6,000 is beyond ridiculous, but hey I would get it for $4,200 for ignoring them for months! Maybe $3,000 if I ignore them for a few months more!

I think one of the key points of an actual course is the social environment which is motivating to join, and the hands-on experience. With the right amount of self-determination it is much better to devise your own program rather than following some expensive and dubious online course, I would advise…

I got an email about a masters class in design being taught online. It actually didn’t look half bad, but the price was identical to being a regular student. If I had that much cash, I would take a sabatical and just go back to school. Who are they pitching these courses to? Rich lazy people?

International students, I suspect.

I get so many ads for design thinking courses across every online platform now.