The Design Thinking Meetup Experience

Last week, I heeded my own advice to immerse more deeply with my local design thinking community and attended not only my first ever Design Thinking Meetup group, but also my first ever Meetup event.

I chose to attend the Design Thinking & Innovation Collective Meetup in Seattle, a monthly 2 hour design thinking meetup that was held at The Pioneer Collective in Pioneer Square. I headed over to the meetup, excited to attend but unsure of what to expect. It felt like heading to my first day at a new school, my nervous energy helping to recharge me after a long day at work.

As I opened the doors into the Pioneer Collective, I entered a beautiful large space that felt like a hybrid between a design studio and a makers space. I was greeted by a welcome sign and a group of other attendees hovering around the sign, appearing as lost as I must have looked. We made name tags, introduced ourselves, and were treated to pizza & beers.

First 30 minutes were spent networking and meeting with other participants. I was surprised by the diversity in backgrounds of my fellow attendees. The individuals I met included multiple designers, UX folks, coders, a healthcare executive, a venture capitalist, and a school teacher.  I was also surprised that quite a few of the attendees had little to no experience in design thinking, which inspired me to consider attending a future Meetup in a field I have no experience in.

Last 90 minutes were spent going through an end-to-end design thinking exercise (sprint). The group had spent the previous 4 meetups going through each step of the design thinking process; this session was the finale combining learnings from each of the prior sessions.

The owner of this meetup used to teach design thinking at Stanford d.School and has since started his own innovation firm focused on human centered design and innovation. His facilitator, a former BCG Digital Ventures design strategist, provided each of us a packet of materials which helped to orient us to their process for design thinking consisting of 1) Immerse (Empathy,  2) Frame (Define), 3) Imagine (Ideate),  4) Prototype. Each of us was paired with another individual; I was paired with a seasoned iOS coder with a great sense of humor.

Design Thinking Exercise 4

1) Immerse / Frame – The flow of the worksession was seamless and highly interactive. We started with a 5 minute meet & greet with our partner, where we took turns telling a story about our most memorable Meetup experience.  This brief conversation set the foundation for the rest of the session; based on the story our partner shared, we created POV statements to bring our partner to life and provide context behind one of their needs/wants.

Design Thinker Exercise 2


2) Imagine / Prototype – We used our POV statements to generate multiple “How might we” (HMW) questions to help connect our insights to ideas. We picked our favorite HMW statements and generated multiple ideas against them. My partner gave me some fantastic ideas for how to better connect with the design thinking community!

3) Storytelling Narrative – Finally, we ended the exercise by telling a story about our partner including who they are, the challenge they’re facing, the solution we created for them, and how that solution changes their life in the future.

Design Thinking Exercise 3

The facilitators asked us to leave our work behind, but generously offered to share additional blank copies of the workpacket. I realized that we were likely doing research for the facilitators, in how to maximize their own meetup. Brilliant! Participants got to enjoy a great worksession, meetup group owners got free research — a win-win for everyone

My Takeaways:

  • Interest for design thinking runs broad & deep (based on the variety of backgrounds among the attendees), and rightfully so as it’s applicable pan-industry and across functions
  • Easier to learn how to apply design thinking through practice, vs. reading a book
  • Teaching design thinking also provides a great vehicle for collecting free insights from students. I imagine that the facilitators of this meetup will use our work to make their future meetups even better. I plan to do the same as I continue to teach design thinking within my own organization.
  • The initial step to join a design thinking community can quickly unlock a broader world of opportunities. At the end of the session, I was invited to join a Slack group to engage more deeply with a smaller community of design thinkers, as well as participate in an upcoming design session unrelated to this meetup. I was also invited to consider speaking at a Techstars start-up conference.

In closing, don’t hesitate to join and participate in your local design thinking community. It’s easy, fun, informative, and time well spent!


  1. […] These “accidental” teaching sessions can be handled in stages or done in the form of an hour long “sprint” that gives people a taste of DT, while helping to solve their problem.  I saw this type of sprint done very effectively at a recent meetup event I attended. […]


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