A Design Thinking Meet-up Case Study



On the Tuesday before the meet-up, Brent and I exchanged a phone conversation about the topic — potential employee/employer points of view and how we wanted to run meet-up. We knew that this would be our first experience with this topic and we're going to start with empathy but we wanted to try something different than interviews. 1 — Brent, Chrystal, and I brainstormed individually, snapped some pictures of our post its and sent the email around. 2 — I selected my top 3 ideas, 3 — Brent selected 2 from those 3, 4 — Chrystal selected the final idea with some tweaks and then 5 — I created the schedule (at the end of article). Because we did this over email, it took 2 days of real-time but probably only a half hour of working time.

Pre-meet-up ideas

On the day of the meet-up, Brent and I made sure we had the materials ready — whiteboards, post-it notes, and sharpies while folks began to arrive. As I stated in the last post, we usually give folks about 10 minutes to show up and catch-up before we begin.


We got started right at 8:40. I welcomed everyone to the meet-up and we started with introductions — name and what you were most excited about for the rest of the summer. Hi, I’m Tony and I’m most excited to see the eclipse with my kids in August. After everyone went around and stated his or her name we started our session as we do every time with a stoke activity. This time Brent led the group in “Good morning”.


Here’s how it works — everyone walks around making eye contact and saying good morning for about 30seconds to a minute. Then Brent stops the group and tells them to continue to keep moving around. The next time he stops the group he asked us to turn to the person closest to them and greet them like they were your long lost friend. We continued to walk around one more time before Brent asked us to greet our middle school best friend who we hadn’t see in 20 years by the nickname we called them in middle school. Hello. I’m T-Money. After loosening up, feeling a little goofy, and having a shared experience we have always found that this method lowers the barrier to the group activity. Then we introduced the design challenge.


A meet-up attendee brought the design challenge to the group because he is interested and worried about the underemployment of millennials in the mid-state. I demoed for the group how someone might brainstorm the differences between what coffee shop owner (international beans, house roasted, lilac flavor) is selling from what a coffee shop goer (free wifi, trendy, where friends meet) might be buying. Then we had the group divide into two groups —a potential hiring manager/employer and a potential employee. We then had folks get into teams of 3 or 4 and grab post its, sharpies and a whiteboard.


Once the teams were set, we had them brainstorm silently for two minutes. As an employer — what do you think you are offering a potential employee? As an employee — what are you looking for in a potential employee? After folks had a few minutes to generate ideas individually, we had them brainstorm with their teams for three minutes. Following the design thinking methodology taught by the Stanford d.school, we’ve found that adding another prompt is always helpful so we had the groups brainstorm for five minutes about — In 3 years, what has happened for the employee/employer?

We then had folks exchange whiteboards with another team (employer to employee and vice versa) and had them affinity map the ideas that the other team came up with for 5 minutes. After creating the affinity map, we then had each team create a point of view from the groups and then debrief with the team that they had traded with. Finally, we debriefed as a group for about 10 minutes and everyone stayed around to network.


Here’s what we learned in the debrief. It was easy to represent the tactical things — pay, benefits, time off. Perceived and personal values such as vision, integrity, inspiration, driven, creative, which are harder to quantify were more important to potential employees. Folks were interested to see that the old model of employment where employees work for companies has evolved into a desire by potential employees to have an individual relationship with their employer.

Interesting to some was the fact the length of the hiring process was not mentioned. From a process standpoint, there was some ambiguity in what folks wrote on the post-it notes. This required explanation by team members and frustrated some. Additionally, this method was too high level and left folks wanting to dig into the statements more asking “why is flexibility important to you?”. We plan on doing this at the next meet-up and used this meet-up to narrow down the broad topic of potential employer/employee relationships.


With a little prep, we were able to create an empathy experience for the group. I have always said that this is the best morning that I have all month and I left on a creative high. In about 40 minutes we accomplished a lot and the fast pace helped the group touch on various aspects. I don’t disagree that where we ended was a bit high level for a deep empathy experience. Additionally, I think this data will be a great starting point for prompts when we dig deeper into this topic next month.

Call to action

  1. Work, live, or visiting Nashville? We’d love you to join us. https://www.meetup.com/DesignThinkingNashville/
  2. Are you a part of another DT group? We’d love to hear from you. What topics do you cover? What works? What doesn’t? What are going to try next? Email me at tony.threatt@gmail.com.

Meeting schedule

8:30–8:40 Networking
8:40–8:50 Welcome & Introductions (name & what are you most excited about for the rest of the summer) & Stoke: Good morning
8:50–8:55 Introduction of design challenge — Potential employee/employer points of view, create teams, and get whiteboards
2 minutes — Silent brainstorm — What do you offer as an employer? What are you looking for as an employee?
3 minutes — Group brainstorm (above questions)
5 minutes — In 3 years, what has happened for the employee/employer?
5 minutes — Affinity mapping
5 minutes — Create a point of view
We met… We were surprised to learn that… We wonder if this might mean…
5 minutes — Debrief between employer and employee teams
9:20–9:30 Debrief as big group and send-off
Post meet-up networking (around 30 minutes)