Community Building: What Is Design Thinking?

Have you ever wanted to design your own city? This summer we’re building a 3D printed city together! Learn more about how to participate by reading about the Community Building: 3D Print a City project.

As you make your 3D model in Tinkercad, you’ll find yourself asking questions. Some answers will be easy, like what shape you want to make the roof. Some will be harder. What do people using this building need? What if there are tornadoes, hail storms or earthquakes? Engineers and architects use a process called design thinking to answer these difficult questions.

There are at least five steps to design thinking. (Why “at least" five? Read on and you’ll see!)

Step 1: Empathize

When you empathize with someone, you understand how they feel. Empathy teaches us about people and what they need. Let’s look at cities in Puerto Rico for inspiration and learn about the earthquakes that have hurt the island. How could you help?

Step 2: Define

Defining the problem helps you turn “how could we help?” into “how might we help?” In our example, you’d read books and articles about what causes earthquakes, how they affect cities and current attempts to solve the problem.

Step 3: Ideate

Ideating is brainstorming. Go wild and think up as many ideas as possible! What if buildings moved along with the earth? What if buildings were all on stilts? Once you have an idea you like, go back to the “how.” How would we put buildings on stilts?

Step 4: Prototype

Some ideas are easy to throw out. Buildings are heavy, so stilts probably won’t work! Once you have an idea that might work, it’s time to use Tinkercad to try to design it. Remember, prototypes are not final products. They can be rough and unpolished because their purpose is to test your design.

Step 5: Test

A professional would run tests by recreating earthquakes in a safe, controlled space. We won’t put your Community Building designs through an earthquake but when you pick them up, you’ll see how well they printed. Maybe the roof collapsed or the walls are too fragile. Whoops!

Remember there are "at least" five steps to design thinking? That is because professionals repeat the prototype, design and ideate steps many times. The first idea often isn’t the right solution. Design thinking is about testing ideas, finding errors and trying again until you find the right design.

One solution researchers are testing is earthquake resistant cement! We don’t see this cement everywhere because it’s not ready yet; they’re still looping through the design thinking process. Maybe your design for the Community Building project will provide a new solution!