Market Your School With Design Thinking: Troubleshooting Ideas With Prototyping

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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.

Get In The Sandbox – It’s Time to Prototype

Here’s the phase where you get your hands dirty. In the prototyping phase, you are able to fail forward, running into problems and obstacles and allowing them to shape your end result. The most obvious example of prototyping comes from a product perspective, but when working with something less tangible, like marketing, this phase can manifest more strategically—think about timing, naming, communication, locations and more. IDEO provides 6 Tips for Prototyping a Service, which are briefly outlined below:

  1. Determine the moments that matter.
    What are the points of maximum impact? How can you be strategic and maximize the effect of your efforts?
  2. Be on the lookout for early indicators.
    What are the early signs that indicate room for improving your prototype while still in the prototyping phase? Remember to keep stakeholders in mind and a spirit of ideation afloat.
  3. Tap the creative potential of those who are delivering the service.
    Ask good questions of stakeholders. Keep a “Yes, and” attitude.
  4. Use time-based moments.
    Continue to reflect on the process and note the ways in which you can better support in the coming phases.
  5. Ask people to imagine a more idealized version.
    Use rough drafts to jumpstart visioning around the ideal product/service.
  6. Use constraints to force yourself to stretch.
    Push yourself through acknowledging the limitations at play, while also introducing additional limitations to spur creativity and continue the ideation process.

For an effective prototyping session to take place, the room should be primed with “design elements.” This happens naturally when following the ideation phase (when done well), as participants already feel heard and creative. This could be done through the intentional use of a room or could be done offsite in your community.

Similarly to the ideation phase, movement is important in the prototyping phase. This can be physical movement, rapidity of designing, agility in shifting from one idea to the next, etc. Through all this movement, it is easy to establish tunnel-vision on an idea that you think is the most interesting or the most promising—remember that likely, this solution is not for you. Keep your audience in mind and lead with the empathy component rather than strictly innovating for innovation’s sake.

Don’t forget to be scientific with it! It’s ok to identify certain elements/variables that do or don’t work and use that to inform or enhance a different idea. Remember that the design thinking process is iterative, meaning that within each prototype you are likely using all other steps of the framework: empathizing, defining, ideating and testing. It’s not necessary to carry any one idea above your head as you wade through the varying steps in the process.

The prototyping phase can be done in groups or alone; really any configuration works. The important part is making sure that everyone is contributing or is put in a position that makes them comfortable to fully participate. Prototyping is a chance to truly hear from everyone and to watch the passion come out as you work together to address an important challenge.

For more, see:

This is the fourth post in a series on marketing your school with design thinking. 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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