George Lucas Educational Foundation

How Design Thinking Can Empower Young People

At People Serving People, a homeless shelter in Minneapolis, local design firms and educators work together to show kids how design thinking can help them make a difference in their neighborhoods.
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How Design Thinking Can Empower Young People (Transcript)

Daniel: For kids who really feel like most of life happens to them, for them to have an opportunity to feel that they have an impact is very exciting. The D3 program is designed specifically for teenagers. And they feel that it's really relevant to their lives, and relevant to the community here, People Serving People.

Emily: One, two, three, jump! Jennifer's trying to explain the game we're about to play. I think most of you played it. It was called signs.

Daniel: People serving people is the region's largest homeless shelter for children and families. But we're not a warehouse for families. Our whole purpose in being is moving the kid and their folks from a really desperate situation towards self-sufficiency as quickly as we can do it.

Kim: D3 in a nutshell is a process. It's broken up into three parts, which is Dream It, Design It and Do It. And this is a process all professional designers use, and it's really focusing on the how, not necessarily just the what, or the end result.

Emily: Should we walk through it really quick?

Boy: Yeah.

Emily: We started out in the beginning. We took pictures with that good, bad and the ugly activity. We gave a thumbs up, thumbs down, remember that?

Boy: Thumbs in the middle.

Emily: Yeah.

Kim: I think a lot of people think the design process is very-- a mysterious kind of hidden thing that happens behind the scenes. And really what D3 does is it demystifies that process. There's no magic involved. It's these very flexible, but structured steps to walk through and approach a problem.

Emily: There's six cards, so they're going to go on these littler circles, not on the light bulbs, but on these little circles around, okay?

So this project started as a spatial redesign project. The teens wanted to redesign or revamp a space at PSP that they felt was being underutilized or that lacked a little pizzazz. They wanted to put their stamp on space here.

Boy: We had narrowed down all the spaces. Chose the three things that we liked best, and we wanted to improve on.

Adam: Okay.

Boy: We chose the lobby.

Adam: Okay.

Emily: They chose the lobby, because it's chaotic, it's loud, it's a very transitional space. People are always coming and going. And knew that that was a space that they wanted to add something to, add value to.

So what did we finally, finally decide on? Out of all of these ideas?

Boy: We made a map about how people will find their way around inside and outside PSP.

Emily: After brainstorming, they found this map idea. Creating a map of the neighborhood, which would not only bring people together, because people travel quite a bit together outside of the building, but also bringing people together physically in the lobby over a new piece that we'll be hanging. We actually canvassed the building. We surveyed as many people as we could, over 90 people. And allowed them to sort of give their feedback. "Where do you go? What kind of places do you visit most often? What places do you not visit? What places could you go if you had an afternoon to yourselves?"

Adam: We have a starter map. So we haven't really done much with this map yet, but it's got the basic foundation. So we have all the streets in Minneapolis. We got the Light Rail in here.

Joyce is a creative branding and digital workshop, so we create logos and brand identities for businesses, as well as websites, and apps, and that kind of a thing.

We have some of the street names labeled, but then we have all these symbols and numbers. You guys are going to help us place those, tell us where they are on this map. And also...

Emily brought this project to Joyce, knowing that they're looking for kind of a local business, a local creative shop partner that could sort of showcase what it's like to be a creative professional as a career.

We found where PSP is headquartered. It's Portland and Third. And we started to find Gold Medal Park, so that's up here. We put a background in behind it. Where else is something that's kind of new there, we have the Guthrie.

Boy: Subway.

Adam: Subway. Should we find where the subway is.

Boy: It's right there.

Adam: Right, Washington and Fifth.

Emily: We partnered with Joyce to get this done. They were a huge help. They did all the backend design for the map, and the kids went to Joyce to help lay it out, and pick colors, typefaces, and really understand how that came together.

Adam: You know what's a nice on a map, Q2? It lets us see that we have a really consistent system and that we're not-- nothing looks too similar, right?

It's actually been kind of fascinating, because I think most kids, and especially these kids are curious by nature. And when they come into kind of a creative environment, something they haven't seen before, a lot of them can come out of their shell a little bit. And really want to engage and understand how things translate from just an idea to the end product.

So what color should we use to indicate the park?

Boy: Green. Like ’cause it says a peaceful place.

Adam: Yeah.

Boy: So just put it like a whole bunch of grass right there.

Emily: We know that our teens are extremely interested in art and music and culture. And Joyce is a place that blends all of those with their work constantly. So for the teens to learn from young professionals that they see as relevant people, that they see as cool people, and to sort of learn from them, to be under their wing, I think is really transformative for them. They see something that they otherwise wouldn't see anywhere else.

Boy: So where were we? Right here?

Adam: Yep.

Boy: As well as right there.

Adam: Yep.

Emily: It creates that pathway in their brain from, "I like art, and I'm good at art, or design, but I don't know what I can do with it."

Boy: This is artwork. This is me.

Woman: Wow, you did a lot of work today!

Adam: Excellent, yeah, this was a lot--

Emily: Guys, this was four weeks of work!

Adam: This is a big project.

Boy: Yeah.

Emily: Four whole weeks. Let's give ourselves a round of applause. [ applause ] Whoo-hoo!

Adam: When you think about applying and teaching design thinking to really anyone, and especially kids, it's again kind of getting to the heart of empowerment in my mind. And giving them tools and processes internally that they can use to impact the world around them. And instead of running into a wall and deciding that they can't go any further, because they don't have that brainstorming tool, or that problem solving tool, they can think of different ways that they can move past that hurdle, move past that obstacle, and kind of get on to the next thing in their life.

Boy: We had created a map for people outside the state that don't their way around. And the map showed places where they need to go, and how they get there.

Emily: The map now will be hung in the lobby. It will be hung right in front of the front desk, so people who are waiting for supplies, people who are waiting to use the phone or laundry, are able to look at this awesome map that these teens created.

Let's give everyone a round of applause. [ applause, cheers ]

Ange: You need to challenge students because they'll rise to the occasion. They'll rise to the challenge you set forth. And by putting students in the context of a business environment, or real world, you are requiring them to rise to the challenge and you're setting a high expectation of how they're going to perform, how they're going to behave. The output that they're going to produce. And I can recreate that as much as possible in a classroom setting, but when you shift into a different environment, the culture changes. Your feelings change. Everything about that changes. You have authentic problems and an authentic environment in which you're solving them.

Daniel: I've heard from some of the kids that they've been able to apply what they're learning in D3 into solving problems that their families are facing, in terms of selecting apartments, and improving their housing. This is a real opportunity for them to feel genuinely engaged and generally reinforce, and that their ideas do have value, and what they're doing does matter. And in their lives that's really quite rare.

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  • Producer: Stephen Brown
  • Director of Photography: Matthew Beighley
  • Editor: Matthew Beighley
  • Associate Producer: Douglas Keely
  • Senior Manager of Video: Amy Erin Borovoy
  • Commissioning Producer: Zachary Fink
  • Executive Producer: David Markus

This video was co-produced by Mobile Digital Arts and Twin Cities Public Television as a companion to the PBS special, Is School Enough?

Is School Enough? Video Series

Edutopia's new series profiles young people who are making their learning more authentic by taking it into their own hands, on their own time. This series is produced by Mobile Digital Arts and Twin Cities Public Television, as a companion to an hour-long PBS special that is now available to watch.

More Resources on Design Thinking

Minneapolis-based People Serving People is a non-profit whose mission is to provide services to assist families experiencing homelessness in becoming self-sufficient and reconnected with their community. People Serving People established a D3 Lab (Dream It, Design It, Do It) in 2012 for teens. The D3 Lab challenges young people to be problem solvers, innovators, risk-takers, and makers as they develop projects that are meaningful to them. Keep up to date with People Serving People on Twitter.

Visit the Is School Enough? series page to see more videos on informal learning.

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