School marketing is hard, but it’s possible—and important. We live in an age of choice, where people and organizations are continuously vying for attention and attendance. This is especially true when it comes to schools, enrollment and standing out from the pack. No matter the title, it has become essential for all school faculty members to ask “what makes our school different?” and “how can we portray care and competency to new audiences?” The process of school marketing is not straightforward, and it never truly ends. That’s where design thinking comes in.

Design thinking enables teams to address problems with lasting solutions through a human-centered and strategic framework. The design thinking framework, as defined by Stanford’s d.school is as follows:

  1. Empathize
  2. Define
  3. Ideate
  4. Prototype
  5. Test

This is an iterative process where all phases continue to inform each other, and in this series, we will explore how each phase of the framework can impact the planning of a school marketing initiative. We encourage you to read out of order, think nonlinearly, or implement this strategic frame in whatever manner makes the most sense to your community or project.

Testing, Testing, 1, 2

You’re here. You’ve gotten through the brainstorming, you’ve faced the challenge you defined, and have come up with a prototype that is as foolproof as you can get it—the only thing left? Test it.

“A rule of thumb: always prototype as if you know you’re right, but test as if you know you’re wrong—testing is the chance to refine your solutions and make them better.” This is just one of many valuable insights provided by the d.School at Stanford on “Why” testing is such a crucial phase. Here are some more of their valuable insights:

  • To refine prototypes and solutions. Testing informs the next iterations of prototypes. Sometimes this means going back to the drawing board.
  • To learn more about your user. Testing is another opportunity to build empathy through observation and engagement—it often yields unexpected insights.
  • To refine your point of view. Sometimes testing reveals that not only did you not get the solution right, but also that you failed to frame the problem correctly.

An important step in the testing phase is to truly engage your audience with the prototype. This can carry varying levels of difficulty with it, depending on the prototype in question, but rarely will you get actionable and meaningful results without observing the user experience in a tangible way.

The testing phase requires user participation and therefore can vary with regards to time: for example, you’ve determined that your school would benefit from having a more prominent digital footprint that is more user-friendly and you’ve gone ahead and updated parts of your website—the next step is to collect data. This can take a while depending on your sample size and the frequency in which your community visits your site; however, perhaps you get to this point and realize that nothing happens… that’s what we mean when we say that design thinking is iterative.

It’s possible that your community has undergone changes, or the competition has shifted in some way. Testing is a great way to make sure that you’re still on track with your original vision, but it’s also an excellent opportunity to empathize all over again. We understand that some schools, districts and organizations may not be able to move through this process at a breakneck pace or even execute all of the steps. Don’t worry. If that is the case, it is important to repeat the empathize and define the steps of the design thinking framework.

Design thinking is an adaptable and powerful framework that, when done well, can become a valuable mindset in your toolkit. This dynamic, human-centered approach to solving problems can create a culture of creativity and care and is certain to help your school stand out from the pack.

For more, see:

This is the fifth post in a series on using design thinking to market your school. For more in the series:

Interested in working with an experienced communications team at the forefront of innovations in learning? Email Taylor to learn more about how we can best support you on your journey.


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