A Non-Designers Guide to Learning About Design Thinking

Roman Grant
5 min readMar 5, 2019


I am not a designer by trade. I don’t have a degree from SCAD or formal training in Industrial Design. I actually spent the first part of my career as a bedside nurse in the U.S. Army, and after business school I found myself doing everything from process improvement to release management.

I was comfortably sailing the monotonous sea of corporate life — It wasn’t perfect, but it kept me distracted enough to ignore the little voice in my head that kept saying it was time for a change.

Fast forward to my current role where I have the pleasure of working on an interdisciplinary design team composed of researchers, data scientists, and designers. We use human-centered design methods to empathize with users, understand their unique journeys, and gain the insights necessary to create meaningful solutions to the challenges they face.

I love everything about the work we do, and I wish I could tell you that I had planned for my career play out like this. Again — I do not have a background in design, or a David Kelley/IDEO pedigree.

What I do have is an insatiable curiosity about the world around me, a desire to make a positive impact in people’s lives, and a love for human-centered design and design thinking.

I am not a designer, but If you are curious about design thinking — or tired of ignoring the little voice — I can share some of the tools and resources that helped me get started.


Cooper Crash Course: Design Thinking in 3 Steps

Description: Through this interactive course you’ll practice design thinking on a real-life project and equip yourself with a powerful set of tools to become more collaborative, innovative, and effective.

Cost: $14.99 (September 2017 — Udemy)

Training Resources: Lifetime access through Udemy,1.5 hours on-demand video, 15 articles, and 3 downloadable resources

My Experience: It’s a fun and straight forward course that will teach you some of the basics.

Attend If: You are brand new to design thinking, and you don’t want to spend a lot of money.

Design Thinking for Innovation — University of Virginia

Description: In this course, we provide an overview of design thinking and work with a model containing four key questions and several tools to help you understand design thinking as a problem-solving approach.

Cost: $59 (October 2017 — Coursera)

Training Resources: Videos, templates, quizzes, discussion forums

My Experience: This is the course that got me hooked. It’s by far one of the best courses I have taken on Coursera and Professor Liedtka does a great job breaking down the concepts. Full disclosure, I didn’t enjoy the peer graded assignment, but overall it was an awesome course that I would recommend to anyone.

Attend If: You have some experience/familiarity with design thinking concepts and want to grow your skillset.

+Acumen and IDEO: Introduction to Human-Centered Design

Description: This is an intensive, hands-on learning experience that will challenge you to get out of your chair and out into the real world to talk to people and test your ideas. You’ll leave this experience equipped and energized to apply the human-centered design process to challenges across industries, sectors, and geographies to generate breakthrough ideas.

Cost: FREE

Training Resources: Reading guides, workshop guides, videos featuring Tim Brown, David Kelley, Patrice Martin of IDEO, and more supplemental resources

My Experience: Team based activities can be a little challenging when you have to create an ad hoc group on the fly, but the videos and materials were very informative.

Attend If: You have some experience/familiarity with design thinking concepts, and you are comfortable with self-paced online group assignments.


UVA Darden: Harnessing the Power of Design Thinking

Description: During this 2-day session, participants will examine Design Thinking as a social technology, a blend of tools and insights that can be thoughtfully leveraged to build a culture of innovation.

Cost: $995 (September 2018 — UVA Darden)

Training Resources: Presentation decks, case studies, and a copy of The Designing for Growth Field Book

My Experience: As I shared above, I thoroughly enjoyed Professor Liedtka’s course on Coursera. So when the opportunity to attend an in-person workshop came up, I was thrilled. The University of Virginia Darden School of Business Sands Family Grounds is an amazing facility. Great discussions, case studies, and take away materials.

Attend If: You have experience using design thinking methods and want understand how organizations are leveraging design thinking to support innovation and collaboration.

DesignThinkers Academy: Service Design Fundamentals Workshop

Description: This high-energy 2-day course will give you a basic understanding of the Design Thinking principles, key tools & terminology. The focus of this course will be hands-on and ‘Learning-by-Doing’ by using tools like Stakeholder Mapping, Customer Journey Mapping and Prototyping.

Cost: $1615 (March 2018 — Charlotte, NC)

Training Resources: Presentation decks, Templates

My Experience: I enjoyed the research and prototyping activities, but the DesignThinkers Academy brand hosts a large variety of courses, so your experience will likely vary from location to location.

Attend If: You are familiar with the design thinking process and would like to get some hands-on experience.


So many glorious books…






From podcasts to webinars…







At the end of the day, no matter how many classes you take, books you read, or videos you watch you won’t be able to strengthen your design thinking muscles without practice.

Embrace the ambiguity, fall in love with the question, and gain empathy through understanding.



Roman Grant

Product Manager | Facilitator | Former Nurse | Army Vet | Always Forward!