Documentation:Design Thinking for City Making

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This wiki resource is developed in collaboration with CTLT's Learning Resource Design Services and Su-Jan Yeo to support the Ideathon Challenge as part of the PLAN 211 course - a second year course open to any UBC student on the UBC-V campus to explore design thinking approaches related to urban planning.

The course is to be first offered in the Fall term of the 2017/18 academic year.

Notes/Initial Ideas

  • goal is for students to use design thinking methods and process in order to support their work on the Ideathon Challenge and possibly beyond - in other contexts where innovative thinking is required.
  • possibly introduce a design method early on that students can bring into the design thinking workshop (ie create a journey map to document observations from the site visit or document their experience visiting a favorite green space.)
  • interdisciplinary work on the Ideathon challenge (groups of 4-5)
  • ensure the design workshop activity is relevant to the design challenge.

Resource Attribution

Most of the resources curated for use in the design workshop are from Stanford's d. school and generously licensed for re-use.

Lead Up Activity

These are a couple of suggested activities that could be combined with the site visits and act as preparation for the design workshop. The goal here is to gather detailed observations which will be the fuel for insight gathering as a group during the design workshop. Perhaps this could be framed as a semi-structured way to gather and document observations about the sites. The structure may help students who are not used to conducting observations as a way to gather insights. Related to your challenge questions, it might look like this:

Site-Specific Question (Quilchena Park @ W 33rd Ave & Pine Cres) How can the site help to promote neighbourliness and spark renewed public interest in Quilchena Park as an urban green asset for residents and users of Arbutus Greenway?

  • as students consider what neighborliness means, it's important to observe people in the area and how they are interacting with the space and each other.

Site-Specific Question (Kerrisdale Junction @ W 41st Ave & West/East Blvd) How can the site leverage on existing street activities to serve as an attractive, vibrant, and safe public gathering space along this car-centric segment of the Arbutus Greenway?

  • as students consider the land and its possible uses, it may be important to consider how people are currently moving through and around it.

The two suggested methods for collecting information may help as follows:

  • Beginner's Mindset - This method is a reminder to students to approach the site visit with curiosity and without bias. It's a way to open up the observation process by asking (and documenting) any questions that surface as they observe the environment. It's about being mindful to stay curious.
  • Observations: What How Why? This method helps provide structure to a deeper or more detailed observation of a person in the environment - to get a deeper sense of how the environment impacts on people. The process also engages some early interpretations - so that assumptions may be tested or worked with in the design workshop.

Design Workshop


Team Resources

  • 1 package of medium sized sticky notes for each participant (assorted colors)
  • 1 black sharpie per person (helps to make the sticky notes readable)
  • Flip chart paper (for sticky notes to adhere to when posted on walls)
  • masking tape ( 1 roll per group for mounting flip chart paper to the wall)

Participant Resources

  • participants' observations from site visits (see above)
  • Bootcamp Bootleg Remix - participant handout with design thinking strategies used in the workshop: a remix of Stanford's Design Thinking Toolkit: Bootcamp Bootleg
  • Group Think Approaches: a guide to applying design thinking methods to your design challenge - with a focus on empathize, define and ideate.

Overview of Design Process

Intention: For participants to gain an overview of a human centered design process and an understanding of the goals for each phase and to build a foundation for applying design strategies.

Note: Copy the slide deck to your google account and revise according to your needs: Copy this.

Doing Design "Thinking": Group Think Strategies

Intention: For participants to apply various strategies to generate an understanding of the users of their challenge space.


Time alotted: 30 minutes
  • to surface insights about the people who you imagine would use the site you visited. Consider their needs, desires, motivations, etc.
  • each person gets 3 minutes to share their site visit observations (don't leave anything out).
  • the rest of the group probes with questions to seek insights - noting highlights, surprises, quotes, and any other interesting tidbits.
Additional resource to use when probing for insights
Choose a strategy to assemble your observations and different points of view to focus on your challenge space users, their needs and any surprising insights that may help you to understand them better.
  • Composite Character Profile
  • Empathy map
  • Saturate your work space with all of the sticky notes you generated during your story share and capture.
  • Use wall space and/or flip chart sheets to group and organize attaching heading post its so that you can clearly see any patterns emerging.
  • The end goal is to synthesize your findings and create insights which will be useful to you in creating proposed solutions to your Ideathon challenge.


Time allotted: 15 minutes
  • to develop a point of view from which to address your design challenge. A point of view serves as a guiding statement that focuses on specific users, insights and needs that you uncovered during the empathize process.
  • As a group review what was gathered from the empathy phase and zone in on the specific types of people who are likely to use your challenge site.
  • Choose a method (from above) to help you get clearer about the motivations of those people.
  • note your ideathon challenge and choose a point of view from which to explore the challenge. Write it down in a way that captures: user, need and insight.
  • Take this into your ideate phase.


Time alotted: 15 minutes
  • to generate radical and innovative design solutions. Remember to keep your users' POV in mind and generate rather than evaluate (harder than it sounds!)
  • take 15 minutes to generate some How Might We...? questions that address your ideathon challenge and (more specifically) a point of view that you have generated.
  • choose one to brainstorm solutions for.
  • spend 15 minutes on your brainstorm - documenting and posting all ideas.
  • select an idea that your group is most excited about and pursue it as a proposed solution to your ideathon challenge.

Further Resources