How Mindfulness Supports Design Thinking

According to the eSchool News reports, educators need to prepare students for a future in which 85% of the jobs have not been invented yet.

In order to prepare students for this future, teachers need to encourage the development of soft skills, such as leadership, communication, team work and social-emotional intelligence to enhance creativity and critical thinking. But how you may ask? Enter Design Thinking and Mindfulness!

What is Design Thinking?

A method or process with a focus on innovation, creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and collaboration. “When learned and applied correctly, design thinking can help businesses and future leaders stay competitive in today’s increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world.” (

Herb Simon (Innovator in Design thinking) refers to it as taking an “existing state” and transforming them to “preferred states.” His intellectual approach sparked a generation of design thinking which uses methods of research and collaboration aimed at producing creative solutions to complex problems which can be anything from creating door bells for the hearing impaired to finding creative solutions to combat environmental threats.

The goals of design thinking are to generate ideas as well as to organize, classify and draw insights from large sets of complex information, mostly through watching how people behave and interact with design solutions.

The process of Design Thinking involves a series of steps which include Understanding the problem/need, Observing & Discovering Point of View through watching and asking questions, Ideating or brainstorming possible solutions, creating Prototypes based on information gained through market research and Testing the prototypes know as Iterating. Developing this Design Thinking Mindset requires non-judgement of ideas & preconceived expectations, flexibility of thought, ability to remain focused on the goal and process, all while maintaining effective communication and empathy with the intention of learning through solving the problem or creating solutions.

“What’s required is that we’re prepared to keep stopping, keep looking at what’s going on inside and around us and keep coming back to the present, training over and over to refrain from the habits of speediness, reaction and denial that are the root causes,” (Ed Haliwell-Mindfulness teacher/writer) or obstacles to the productive process of successful design thinking as well as the practice of Mindfulness.

Enter Mindfulness

Mindfulness is defined simply as training our awareness on a single point of focus. In other words, it is a practice of being single-minded rather than multi-tasking or doing things “mindlessly.” We do this by intentionally paying attention to our breath, a sound, the task at hand or anything really, and noticing what happens when we do this. If you are like most people, you will notice that within a matter of minutes or seconds even, your mind is not particularly impressed with the fact that you are trying to do this and begins to do it’s job: to think. The mind pumps thought, like the heart pumps blood and the stomach pumps digestive juices. But these thoughts are not necessarily thoughts about the task at hand. Instead these thoughts are typically focused on the past or the future, focusing on replaying what’s already happened or planning/predicting/worrying about what’s to come. You may be surprised to know that most people experience between 50-70 thousand thoughts a day which accounts for more than half of our day and/or lives when we inhabit them. Talk to any psychologist and they’ll tell you that the content of our thought dictates our emotions. Talk to any general practitioner and they’ll tell you our emotional state has a direct effect on our overall wellness and felt pain in the body. Mindfulness training not only increases our focus and awareness, but it also decreases our natural inclinations and suffering that prevent innovation, 21st century, career ready skills and mindsets needed for success.

How Mindfulness Supports Design Thinking

Jay Vidyarthi, an interaction designer and Mindful Society advisory council member, reminds us that “Meditation and design thinking share a heavy reliance on non-judgement.” In order to fully understand the task, problem or first step in the Design Thinking process, individuals must practice curiosity rather than judgement. In Mindfulness we refer to this as having a Beginner’s Mind: dropping our expectations and preconceived notions, forgetting our limiting beliefs and conditioning to see things with and open mind or fresh perspective just like a beginner. The result is developing a curiosity that increases our engagement and ability to see the situation as it is in the present moment.

The second step of the Design Process is to Observe or become a mindful watcher. Specifically it is a way to gather information about the task to which the current situation needs a solution. Research in this stage also takes the form of asking questions with the intention on “needfinding.” Both watching (paying attention to nonverbal responses) and questioning require the skill of empathy to be truly successful. In mindfulness we practice watching thoughts, emotions and sensations arise without “becoming” them in an attempt to know what it is like to be human, and in turn, knowing all other humans.

Continued study of the human experience promotes awareness of the human inclination toward suffering. Whether the suffering is caused by internal or external factors, real or perceived, we come to accept in mindfulness that suffering is on a continuum, meaning no suffering is greater than another, yet a universal trait of human nature. Understanding suffering in this way, unites us in the human experience and also develops into compassion: an awareness of suffering and a sincere desire for it to diminish. With compassion, we not only wish to end suffering, but we also come to deeply understand Point of View, the third aspect of Design Thinking.

This progression is what many leaders & entrepreneurs come to discover in marketing their product or service in which User+NEED+Insight=POV. As a redesigned educator & mindfulness mentor who works with teachers, families and students of all ages, I became increasingly aware of the perpetual overload that negatively impacts our culture both in and out of the classroom. Because of my own experience with excessive worry, increasing demands at work and in life combined with a tsunami of information I was barraged with each day, I knew that I had to find a better way to be with my stress and overwhelm before it got the best of me. After discovering and deepening my Mindful Practice, the NEED was so clear to me: We all need Mindfulness because we’re so busy, yet because we’re so busy we don’t have time for Mindfulness. Using insight from my own practice allowed me to discover the obstacles that prevented the practice of Mindfulness and explore ways to simply Infuse Mindfulness into my home, classroom & life. This insight, gained through the practice of training my awareness, helped me to identify the common thread that prevents us all from practicing that which we so desperately need: We don’t have time for “one more thing!”

With a clear understanding of this “existing state,” I was now ready to dive into the actions of design thinking: Ideate, Prototype and Test as a way to create a “preferred state.” At first it felt like I was throwing a whole bunch of Mindful activities at the wall and seeing what would stick.

  • I presented to colleagues and fellow parents (Infusing Mindfulness, Mindful Educator, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Conscious Parenting)

  • I taught classes to students of all ages (Introduction to Mindfulness, Mommy and Me Mindful Activities, Bedtime Meditation and Movements)

  • I worked with families and individuals alike (Mindful Tutoring, Family Meditation)

  • I wrote blogs, recorded videos, hosted tables, spoke for free at local events…

    And although I learned so much in the process and made some great connections with many meaningful interactions and relationships, I still felt like I was spinning my wheels rather than solving the problem, yet the process brought me closer to my “Redesigned Mission.”

    I knew I wanted to affect change at a greater level. I wanted to be a Change Agent with a greater purpose: To Redesign Education in order to design a happier, healthier future for not only my own children, school and community, but for the largest audience I could reach. I wanted to share my redesigned mission with humanity: Recognizing that awesomeness is not contingent on perfection and a life worth living requires intention, passion and a deep understanding of what matters most to you.

    For me, I want to live a more peaceful, enjoyable existence with less stress so I can serve my highest good-Be the change I wish to see in the world! Applying the process of Design Thinking to my mission keeps my services relevant and useful for those who need it most: Our future generations and their Direct Influencers. 

Mindfulselff is still in the throws of the Design Thinking Process (Planning, Learning, Creating, Iterating and back to Ideating again) but My Mindfulness Practice supports my efforts in this undertaking.

  1. My practice is Human-centered, teaching me to really listen to what people say, want and need in order to support them in their Mindful Journey. Many times, it’s helping to break down misconceptions people have that prevent them from developing a  practice that works for them. Each time I create a  resource for my clients, my own learning deepens as I attempt to express ideas and concepts in simple, sometimes non-verbal ways to make them more compelling and clearly understood.

  2. Practicing & enhancing my focused attention not only reminds me what I know and need to know, but it helps me to be mindful of the process of Design Thinking and where I am in that process. Executing ideas, remaining focused on the goal and simplifying information in an attempt to synthesize and maintain divergent thinking all require different energies and actions.

  3. My practice helps me to embrace the process of prototyping again and again and again as I experiment with new ideas, gain new information and make changes accordingly. Learning to wear my thoughts more loosely lends itself to my flexibility of thought not becoming too attached to any particular ideas which have nothing to do with me rather they are vehicles to people-centered solutions.

  4. My practice helps me let go of my ego and deal with whatever is getting in the way of achieving my goal and focus. Whether it’s fear of failure or judgement or recognizing my own battle with perfectionism, I’ve come to live the growth mindset phrase: Mistakes are proof that we are trying (& learning).

    Increasing my awareness of and Planning for these mindsets and actions of Design Thinking are crucial to my success of Redesigning Education by staying relevant & providing innovative services/resources. Only when we apply design thinking to our mission can we yield outcomes that create, deliver and capture sustainable and differentiated value to our lives and future!  

Amy Rubin