• Design Thinking

    People-Centered Design

What Is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is a people-centered problem solving method that promotes ethnography, empathy and iterative prototyping influenced by user testing. Collaborators are challenged to suspend judgment and leverage insights from a user group or individual to meet the needs derived from discovery and empathetic experiences. Design thinking is not a new way of generating solutions to the problems communities, organizations and people face; however, it has been seen as a very powerful and effective tool for teams to uncover hidden, ambiguous, and unknown truths about the experiences of those they are trying to solve for. Watch this video to learn more about design thinking as a practice.

The MVIFI Compass Field Guide

Download a Sample of the MVIFI Compass Field Guide

For more information on the Compass Field Guide, design thinking, or consulting, contact Alex Blumencranz at ablumencranz@mountvernonschool.org .

In 2018 The MVIFI design team began to explore a new framework we are calling The Compass Model. The final pages of the Field Guide go into greater detail to explain the 4 main compass elements: Discover, Define, Design, Deploy.

Your feedback is extremely valuable to us and we want to know how you are using the new tools reach out via email, facebook, or twitter!

Design Thinking Challenges

Examples of DT Projects at Mount Vernon

Mount Vernon began exploring and implementing design thinking in 2010. In a blog post entitled "Corps of Engineers," Head of School Dr. Brett Jacobsen explained his remembrance of the origin story of design thinking at MVPS.

Since those beginnings, Mount Vernon has become a national and international leader in design thinking, particularly in education. The learners and design thinkers at Mount Vernon have engaged in hundreds of challenges throughout the years. Below are just a few examples.

Shiny Toys Preschool Challenge

Led by Liz Aull, and with admin support from Kelly Kelly, MVPS two-year olds embarked on a challenge that required them to empathize with the toddlers in the Early Learning Center. Through guided observation and prototyping, the Preschool children designed "shiny toys" for the "MV babies."


i471 Founders Campus Innovation Design Challenge

In 2012, Mount Vernon’s teachers participated in a meaningful professional learning experience, specifically going deep into the design thinking process. The focus was on reimagining the learning spaces on the Founders Campus.


Cardboard Challenge 2013

On Oct. 4, 2013, students from Mount Vernon Presbyterian School’s Lower School had another opportunity to participate in the Cardboard Challenge (2nd year). For #cardboardchallenge 2013, students were challenged to imagine and create the metropolises of the world!

Bus Stop Challenge

In 2012, first graders at the Mount Vernon Presbyterian School engaged in a design thinking challenge about public transportation and the bus stops in Sandy Springs.

Enable 3D-printed Prosthetic Hand

During the 2014-15 academic year, students in the Technology, Engineering and Design (TED) course at MVPS partnered with eNable to create a 3D-printed, prosthetic hand for a teenage boy named Alex Linkous.


Candy Wrapper Raincoat for Zambia

One of the earliest design challenges conducted at Mount Vernon partnered the School with a sister school in Zambia. After a number of virtual interviews, student designers crafted a rain coat from candy wrappers as a prototyped solution for Zambian children during the rainy season.

Middle School Learning Spaces

The MVPS Middle School is pioneering some work related to flexible and interactive learning spaces. In fact, the MSAB functions as a learning lab for some exciting experimenting around learning environments and school furniture.

Green Works Challenge

Sixth grade students, with guidance from Mary Beth Strubble, Mary Cantwell, and other teachers, crafted green houses and planters out of reclaimed and up-cycled products.

Venture Sparked from Observational Journaling

Through observational journaling and empathy interviews, a group of iDiploma members stumbled on their own design challenge they are determined to solve: How might we make sustainability part of our DNA?

Design Brief: Peachtree Station

A Design Brief, provided to us by Jeff Garrison from S.J. Collins Enterprises, has a group of iDiploma members concepting site plans for an outdoor community space that will be part of a larger high-end retail complex anchored by Whole Foods. The development, which sits on 11 acres, has the potential to change the landscape and the community of a nearby town.

HMW be more globally competitive?

At the inaugural Council on Innovation event in 2013, a cadre of student designers took on the challenge of "How might we be more globally competitive?"

HMW improve communications at NAES?

In the spring of 2015, a chief engineer from the North American Energy Services Corporation (NAES) enlisted the services of Innovation Diploma to conduct a "consultivation" (consulting for innovation) focused on "How might we improve communications across the 10 engineers working across the country in different systems and time zones?"

Frontier Challenge – 4th Grade

In the spring of 2016, 4th graders used observational and ethnographic discovery techniques to hypothesize about enhancements to the Preschool and Lower School outdoor learning-and-play space on Founders Campus called The Frontier. The 4th grade teacher team set the conditions to begin this design challenge knowing that it would require several cycles of work, probably extending over a couple of years.


Upper School Design Sprint Inspired by Voiceless Documentary

When Love Beyond Walls, an Atlanta non-profit, approached Mount Vernon Institute for Innovation (MVIFI) and Mount Vernon Presbyterian School about the premier of their new documentary, Voiceless, an authentic opportunity for students to experience another lap in design thinking emerged.  


Kindergarten DT on Common Space

The Kindergarten team (Michele Guttery, Meghan Fedor, Addy DeVore, Lindsey Whitehead, Christine Keleman, and Sarah Wright) recently recognized a need in their common space, and brought their students on a DT journey. This is their story.

Visual Design Thinking

Visual Design thinking is a way for us to lean into images as a means to prototype over words on post-its or even physical prototypes. It often requires no more than pen and paper and prototypes can be created very quickly which means more ideas and failing faster which ultimately leads to more creative solutions.

Other Design Thinking Resources

As we experiment with various design thinking resources, and as we learn from other design thinkers, we like to share what we find to be most helpful.