The ideal wallet | A design thinking activity

Last week, I attended a really engaging design thinking workshop. The second half was structured around a single activity broken into many stages. I’m going to reproduce the activity as I experienced it. As you read through the post, I think it will become apparent to you how parts of the activity could be used in the ELT or Business English classroom.



About 2 hours. Some steps (such as 3) could be crunched while other steps (like 8) could be made longer. I’ve retained the original timings.


Sheets for the making notes, doodling and ideating (pre-printed A3 ones like those in these images seemed to facilitate creativity for some odd reason), good quality pencils, erasers, an on-screen countdown timer and stuff for making the wallet (such as play-dough, cardboard, rubber bands, glue, cello-tape, velcro, coloured paper, honestly you can just give them a whole lot of junk and stuff that will enable them to combine it)

ideal wallet 1

Lead-in (5 min) 

Give Ss 5 min to design their ideal wallet – providing them a large drawing space to sketch their idea or ideas.  Call time after 5 min and have them share in pairs or small groups before asking for volunteers to present their ideas to the rest of the group. Focus on the ‘why’ they might want their wallet to look a certain way.

Empathise: Design something useful and meaningful for your partner. Start by gaining empathy.

Step 1: Interview (14 min – 2 sessions of 7 min each)

Put Ss in pairs and announce the objective – design a wallet or equivalent that is useful and meaningful for their partners.

Ss have 7 min each to interview their partner to find out what they might want in their ideal wallet. Encourage them to pull out their wallets and show their partners. They should only stop asking questions when the countdown timer goes off. Then, they switch roles and repeat the interview.

Step 2: Dig deeper (10 min –  2 sessions of 5 min each)

Ask Ss to interview to conduct a second interview. They should ask their partner questions that they didn’t think of the first time and go beyond the obvious, uncovering needs and desires.

Reframe the problem

Step 3: Capture findings (10 min)

Have Ss capture their findings from the two rounds of interviews. Ask them to segregate this into two sections:

needs: things they are trying to do (use verbs)

insights: new learnings about your partner’s feelings/world-view to leverage in your design (make inferences from what you heard)

Step 4: Define problem statement (10 min) 

Ask Ss to fill the following format:

_________________ (Name) needs a way to ______________________________________ (user’s need).

Unexpectedly, in his/her world, _________________________________________ (insight)

Ideate : generate alternatives to test.

ideal wallet 2

Step 5: Sketch 3-5 radical ways to meet your user’s need (15 min) 

Ask Ss to note their problem statement and provide 5 frames to fill with ideas by drawing their design.

Step 6: Share your solutions & capture feedback (20 min – 2 sessions of 10 min each) 

Ask Ss to share their ideas with their partner and capture the feedback without questioning it or going into explanation mode.

Iterate based on feedback

Ideal wallet 3

Step 7: Reflect & generate a new solution (7 min)

Ask Ss to sketch their big idea – the one that they determined would be best for their parter in step 6. Give them a large worksheet in which they draw this idea.

Build and test

Step 8: Build your solution (20 min)

Ask Ss to use the materials you’ve provided to create a prototype their partner can interact with.

Step 9: Share your solution and get feedback (14 min – 2 sessions of 7 min each) 

Have Ss share their prototype with their partner and document feedback. They should record feedback under 4 subtitles:

  • + What worked
  • – What could be improved
  • ? Questions
  • ! Ideas

After step 9, encourage a whole-class show and tell with the prototypes. Insist the Ss link their prototype’s features backs to the needs and insights they uncovered about their partners.

Dope on Design thinking

The facilitator opened with the lead-in and then spent two or three hours discussing the design thinking process, sharing examples, case studies and videos for each of the steps, before getting into step 1. The design thinking process he used is the one created by Stanford’s D-school:

Empathise >> Define >> Ideate >> Prototype >> Test

The steps outlined in the activity closely follow this process. Here are some more resources on this design thinking sequence:

  • A 90 minute virtual crash-course on the design thinking process from the D-school.
  • Information on the D-school’s methods including interviewing for empathy in the form of downloadable PDFs.
  • Examples of things they’ve designed.
  • Recommended reading list (I’ve just started Creative Confidence which is published by the D-school)

Some time ago, Stanford ran a MOOC titled Design Thinking Action Lab on NovoEd – although I only audited the course, I know people who’ve completed it and found it really insightful. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like they’re going to run it again any time soon.

You may, of course, use the activity as an intensive speaking skills task (since it lends itself well to a communicative classroom) without discussing design thinking at all but it’s a fascinating topic and could become the context for an entire week of lessons.

Credit for this activity, the activity sheets and the interpretation of the design thinking process goes to Sudhir Bhatia of bRnd Studio. 

3 Replies to “The ideal wallet | A design thinking activity”

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