Stanford’s offers an intensive, four-day Design Thinking Bootcamp where attendees immerse themselves in real-world projects on the streets of Palo Alto and San Francisco. The purpose is to learn the’s human-centered, prototype-driven approach to innovation. One Stanford alumnus described the program best when they shared “ is like riding a bike … except the bike is a skateboard … and the skateboard is made from 17,689 paperclips … and through the design-thinking process and empathy journeys … your team creates magic for users.”

After several years of practicing design thinking at Zion & Zion, three members from our creative, account, and public relations teams were lucky enough to be in the second round of Zion & Zion employees to attend the Design Thinking Bootcamp. For us, the program re-wired our brains to think of ourselves as innovators, not just doers. We left with the tools and methods needed to implement design thinking in our everyday tasks, both for the agency and for our clients. Below are a few top takeaways from this amazing program.

Takeaway 1 – Perfect is not always best

The number one takeaway from bootcamp was to move fast! In school and work, we are trained to plan and prepare until the final hour. Only until a project is due, do we share work with our end user (be it the teacher, boss, or clients). Those hours of planning and preparation generally go one of two ways. One, everyone loves the result and you don’t have to change a thing, or two, you must go back and rework the project, spending even more time making adjustments based on feedback.

Design thinking pushes you to share work with your end user when your idea is only half-baked. This can be extremely uncomfortable; you’re basically being vulnerable sharing unfinished work for the world to criticize. However, the benefit is that it forces you to collaborate much faster than you normally would, giving you the ability to tweak and/or pivot as necessary before you’ve wasted valuable time.

Takeaway 2 – Think like a kindergartener

Experience is extremely beneficial. It makes you an asset on how to address issues and where to go next. However, when it comes to design thinking, your experience can hinder you—forming preconceived notions, misconceptions, and even stereotypes that can cloud your judgement. When it comes to innovation, you must clear your mind and think like a kindergartener.

The first stage of design thinking is empathize, and that means engaging with and relating to your target audience. Here are a few guidelines to follow when empathizing with your target audience.

  • Ask questions, even if you assume you know the answer.
  • Ask for clarification, even if you believe you understand.
  • Don’t judge, but instead be open to your target users’ mindsets.
  • Be curious, and don’t shy away from the unknown.
  • Find patterns and look for themes, even if they come from crazy and interesting places.
  • And, last but most importantly, listen. We mean really, really listen. You’ll be surprised with what you hear if you’re not busy thinking about what to say next or jumping to conclusions.

Takeaway 3 – Focus on the extreme user

It’s human nature to group people together based on like-mindedness and discard the outliers. After all, it is the masses you want to appeal to, not the exception. However, design thinking goes against the grain (once again) and forces you to focus on the extreme user. Often it is the needs of the extreme user that coincides with the needs of the wider population.

To accomplish this, first determine who your extreme user is. If it’s a target user you tend to shy away from, chances are that’s who you should be focusing on. Secondly, engage. Talk with that extreme user, really listen and look for interesting and intriguing insights. If you hit an “ah-ha” moment, you’re probably on the verge of discovering something that should be investigated more. Finally, look at the extreme user in all of us. Once your extreme user has inspired some wild and crazy ideas, narrow down what resonates with the primary target users you’re designing for.

Takeaway 4 – Leap to assumptions

The second stage of design thinking is define. This is where you take all your learnings from your empathy findings and categorize them accordingly. From there, start drawing insights and developing your target user’s point of view. It is within this point of view that you identify your problem statement. Like focusing on the average target user, we tend to jump to the easiest answer. Design thinking trains you to ‘Surprise-to-Insights Leap,’ meaning that you shouldn’t go straight for the obvious answer. Pull the most interesting and unusual insights and start making crazy assumptions. It’s from these crazy assumptions that “I wonder if this means that the user ____” statements are created. These can spur some pretty amazing ideas. It may be uncomfortable at first, but you’ll be surprised with where it takes you.

Takeaway 5 – Failure should be celebrated

We live in a society where we don’t recognize and celebrate failure. Instead, we criticize and ridicule it. Design thinking trains you to celebrate your failures. Because failure means you’ve learned a valuable lesson that you can improve from. If you live in fear of failure, you’ll never try, especially when it’s new and innovative. Feeling empowered to fail pushes you to try things you never thought you would. It is from these attempts that true innovators come to the table with amazing ideas. A genius invention never happened overnight; it took time and failure to perfect and bring it to where it is today.


While many of these takeaways go against natural tendencies, it is the design thinking process that can push you to think differently and force you to be creative. All great innovation comes from thinking and going against the grain. The design thinking tools and methods will help you not only address very complex and messy problems but solve them.