Building Empathy at the Destination Imagination Global Finals

“A-ha” moments can abound when using the Design Thinking process to create empathy and design for someone from a different country or culture.

HFLI recently had the opportunity to facilitate a series of Design Thinking challenges for more than 120 young people at the 2016 Destination Imagination Global Finals. Each May, more than 8,000 youth participate in DI’s international competition, celebrate their creativity and have fun. This year, teams from 20 countries traveled to Knoxville, Tenn. for the event.



The mobility-focused Design Thinking challenges were sponsored by Ford Motor Company. Both compelling and age appropriate, they included connections to dynamic transportation design careers and were created specifically for elementary school, middle school and high school students:

• Features for Creatures – Ages 8-14/Grades 2-7

• Commandeer Your Gear – Ages 11-15/Grades 6-10

• Reboot Your Commute – Ages 14-adult/Grades 8-adult

For example, in the “Features for Creatures” rapid cycle challenge, participants ages 8-14 designed a way for their user to transport a pet.



Christopher Patten, our Associate Director of Design Thinking, found the Design Thinking challenges to be a fantastic opportunity to open young minds to new people, new perspectives, and a new way of thinking.

HFLI’s approach to the empathy phase of the Design Thinking process created some breakthrough social dynamics for the young attendees. “Empathy is key in human-centered design, but it requires communication,” said Christopher. “Most of the kids traveled in groups, so when they entered the room we asked them to sit with someone they didn’t know. The mood was, as anyone might imagine with this age group, pretty indisposed. Interestingly enough, though, giving them a conversation structure, such as the rapid cycle prompts and questions, allowed them to safely test the waters with their new companion.”



“We had attendees from Poland interviewing attendees from Germany and the U.S.; they learned from someone their own age who has a completely different life experience and perspective of the design problem. While one young design thinker may rely solely on the family’s vehicle for daily transportation, another may use public transportation to commute to school. It was inspiring to see them build authentic understanding of a challenge through the eyes of someone who lives continents away and work to create a potential solution. By the time the kids developed prototypes, the walls had come down.”

“Our experiences at the Global Finals really highlighted the value of the Design Thinking process as a sophisticated communication tool. We are grateful to Ford for the opportunity to share this learning experience with these young creatives, their team leaders and chaperones.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *