High School Students Design the Future

As many high schoolers use the summer of 2016 to take a much needed break from shuffling school and extracurriculars, 21 young adults decided to come to Stanford and take up a challenge: Spend seven days designing solutions to real problems faced by individuals with physical impairment. And to get the job done, they joined the K12 Lab, DC Design and four project partners for a week of deep-empathy, high-resolution prototyping and character-forming lessons about how to collaborate with teammates.


Once the students were introduced to the design thinking process on day 1, they broke up into six groups and took a two-hour deep dive into understanding the physical and emotional needs that make up the daily life of a person living with physical impairment. Each group took all their empathy work and synthesized the information to focus on one challenge. “How might we make storage collapsible, and light?” “Let’s redesign the way a wheelchair stops.” Those designs were put to the test on Thursday when the young adults shared and tested their low-resolution prototypes with their users.

With their ideas made real using cardboard, styrofoam, rubber bands and post-its, the students were given actionable feedback about what worked, what didn’t, and what features to add to their prototypes. All the while, student mentors from Stanford University coached the young designers to go deeper in their insights and bolder in their prototypes, while maintaining a positive collaborative environment.


The next two days were spent at Radicand, a co-working maker space, where the groups refined prototypes using a laser cutter, a wood shop, 3D printers and an arduino kit. Once the painstaking tweaks and adjustments were in place, the group headed back to the d.school to prepare their presentations.

Speaking to a packed house of parents, friends, community members, project partners and users, the groups spoke openly about how challenging it was to design for users whose daily lived experiences were so different from their own. Each student shared insights about the powerful impact their new design perspective can have on future projects. And they showed of incredible prototypes, like a phone battery that would vibrate when groups start to disperse, so that a visually impaired person would know when she was getting lost from her friends in a crowd. And this foldable table that provides an extra horizontal surface on a wheel chair.


Congratulations to the 2016 class of Design the Future! We can’t wait to see where your design journey takes you.