My Story using Design Thinking for a Program Design


Imagine yourself as a trainer tasked with developing a program for customer service representatives. You want to ensure your program is not only informative but also engaging, addressing the specific challenges they face. This is where design thinking comes in.

Design thinking is a human-centered approach to problem-solving, helping create solutions that are effective, relevant, and user-centered. By following its five steps, we can design training programs that truly empower our learners.

Step 1:

Empathize - Understanding Your Learners Conduct Interviews: Schedule individual or group interviews with customer service representatives. Ask questions like:

  • What are your biggest challenges on the job?

  • What skills do you think you need to improve?

  • What are your preferred learning styles?

  • What are your expectations for this training program?

Observe Learners in Action: Shadow customer service representatives as they handle customer interactions. Observe their communication skills, problem-solving abilities, and overall demeanor. Pay attention to any recurring challenges they encounter.

Analyze Existing Data: Review customer satisfaction surveys, call logs, and performance reports. Identify areas where customer service representatives are struggling or where customer complaints are prevalent.

What I did

I usually prefer in-depth interviews and data analytics. I found that learners in the 21st century often have blind spots. I observe my learners performing their daily tasks and draw assumptions about gaps in knowledge, skills, attitude, or habits. This process automatically links me to the next step.

Step 2:

Define the Problem - Formulating Your HMW Synthesize your research: Analyze data collected from interviews, observations, and data analysis. Identify key patterns and recurring themes.

Craft a clear "How Might We" (HMW) statement: Based on your findings, formulate a statement that encapsulates the learning problem you aim to address and the desired outcome for your learners.

What I did

HMW is just a metaphor that I use to prepare this article. In your perspective, you are free to choose whichever method works for you. In short, at Step 2, I am trying to make a statement that can provide a solution to my learners to close their learning or training gap. For example, I will write down “How might we help life insurance agents use social media platforms effectively and efficiently?” This is just an example, and usually, my learners will bring this into a shorter and more direct statement. You are right; this is more or less setting a goal for this training program. “What kind of problem are we trying to solve here?”

Step 3

Ideate - Unleash Your Creativity Brainstorm freely: In a collaborative session with colleagues or other trainers, brainstorm as many solutions as possible to the defined problem. Encourage wild and unconventional ideas.

Role-play: Enact scenarios where customer service representatives face challenging customer interactions. This allows you to identify potential solutions from their perspective.

Mind map: Visually connect ideas related to communication skills, problem-solving, and customer service. This can spark new connections and lead to innovative solutions.

What I did

I believe this is a simple step but can be easy to run off track. Usually, when I start to brainstorm with myself or with a group of people, I will take a short 3 mins to a maximum of 30 mins. I will usually start with “May I borrow your brain for a while?”. In this statement, I stated clearly, I only want the brain but not the heart filled with emotion and judgment. I only need the brain to provide me ideas and simple responses. For example, I have a few topics to conduct, and let’s name them A, B, C, D, and E. Should I go in alphabetical order as a story flow, or should I go randomly as all these topics are standalone, or any other better ways? To me, this step to create an idea is more like a habit than a skill. But, we should condition our minds to behave in such a way in certain situations. So, I usually start with that statement “Can I borrow your brain?”. How about you? How do you switch yourself into creative mode? Please let me know in the comment section below.

Step 4

Prototype - Quick & Dirty Testing Develop low-fidelity prototypes: Based on the brainstormed ideas, create prototypes of your chosen solutions. These could be simple mock-ups of training modules, sample activities, or even a basic outline of the program.

Gather feedback: Pilot your prototypes with a small group of customer service representatives. Observe their engagement, collect their feedback on the content and format, and identify areas for improvement.

Refine and iterate: Based on the feedback, refine your prototypes and ensure they address the learners' needs effectively. Don't be afraid to experiment with different formats and approaches.

What I did

I will start preparing a skeleton of my training program objectives and lesson plan. If you are coming from a different industry, a prototype has a different meaning for you at this stage. If you are an industrial designer, maybe you are going to do 3D print the prototype. If you are a UX and UI engineer, maybe you are going to prepare the user journey mapping at this stage. As a training program designer, preparing the program objectives, lessons plan using Gagne 9 Events model is sufficient for me to test out the training program flow. How about you? Once I am ready at this stage, I will go back one step to ask for feedback, aka brainstorming on this prototype. So, I am kinda in between Step 3 and Step 4.

Step 5

Reflect & Refine - Continuous Improvement Evaluate learning outcomes: After implementing the program, assess how well learners have achieved the program's objectives. This could involve analyzing data such as improved customer satisfaction scores or decreased complaint rates.

Assess engagement: Monitor the overall engagement of the program participants. Track completion rates, observe their participation in activities, and gather feedback on their overall learning experience.

Gather feedback: Conduct surveys and interviews with participants to understand their perspectives on the program's effectiveness and areas for improvement.

Iterate and improve: Based on the data and feedback collected, continuously refine your program. This could involve updating content, changing the format of delivery, or adding new activities based on emerging needs.

What I did

If you can move to Step 5, I would like to congratulate you for completing the product design and launch. I will continuously gather feedback at each cohort class to analyze learners' satisfaction, activity, and, most importantly, feedback for improvement.


Design thinking offers a powerful framework for designing impactful training programs that address learners' specific needs and improve their performance. By following these steps and embracing an iterative approach, you can design programs that truly empower your learners and achieve significant results. So, unleash your creativity, embrace design thinking, and embark on a journey to create training programs that truly make a difference!


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