2. Exploring a Design Challenge

This section provides an introduction to the basic principles of design thinking.

After completing this section, you will be able to...

  • Create a design challenge
  • Facilitate a design challenge through a studio experience

Design thinking techniques and research methods can be used in a variety of ways. As a youth librarian, you can use these techniques to tackle your own challenges, or you might integrate design thinking methods as a framework for youth to help them use the techniques of a designer. You can use the entire design thinking process or elements of it in your work with youth. This section discusses integrating design challenges into your work.

One way to begin thinking and working like a designer is to explore the use of a “design challenge”. A design challenge is a way to initiate a project that allows you or your youth community to cycle through all elements of the design thinking process.1 Design challenges typically emphasize project-based learning. You can frame a design challenge to address administrative issues, space design, and services— exploring challenges both in the library context and across the greater community.

For instance, you might think about how youth can work together to solve real world issues such as creating a safe gathering space for youth, helping visitors of their city understand their community better, or assisting elders with using mobile technology. Projects may range in scope and scale. Perhaps your design challenge is more related to issues within your library such as integrating a new technology or demonstrating value to the local school system. Whatever you decide to tackle, use as much Imagination as you canin your early planning. You can worry about the particulars later! (For more about idea generation see Section 3.2 - Ideation.


Is the challenge meaningful and interest-driven?

  • What makes you or youth most excited?
  • Do you or your youth work better when technology is involved? 
  • What service or experience would you like to improve upon or reimagine?
  • What tools or resources in your library could help youth explore their passions?

What is the scope of the challenge? 

  • What materials are needed? 
  • Is the scope too broad? Too narrow? 
  • What community partnerships can be expanded on to develop the resources needed for the challenge?

What is the best timing for the challenge? 

  • How long do you need to complete the challenge? 
  • If this is youth-led, can your youth community do it in a reasonable amount of time?
  • Is this a long term project?

Does this challenge connect different spheres of learning? 

  • Does the project connect with larger programming efforts, school curriculum, or youth’s future career interests? 
  • What issue would you like to address in your library or community?
  • Is it related to current events, societal trends that young people care about in a meaningful way?

1: d.school, Stanford University Institute of Design.