Promoting Integration and Ideation Through Design Thinking

Facilitating Challenging Conversations

Our current students will have a very different professional experience than previous generations.  They will, on average, tend to experience more transitions between jobs and even careers, often finding themselves in roles that don’t currently exist.  Success in this new environment will require a strong sense of adaptability and resilience, along with an internal locus of control over one’s identity and a commitment to lifelong learning about oneself and the world (Rossier, 2015).

When students come to us seeking guidance about their futures, it can be helpful to borrow concepts from the Design Thinking framework to structure the conversation.  As Burnett and Evans (2016) describe, this model encourages deep reflection about oneself, radical ideation about possible paths, and prototyping solutions to test and iterate.  It’s a process with a bias toward action, which can be comforting for students and can help lead to new insights.

Additional design influence comes from Career Construction theory in the form of the “life-design” framework. Savickas (2013) notes that life-design interventions are structured to “(a) construct career through small stories, (b) deconstruct these stories and reconstruct them into an identity narrative or life portrait, and (c) co-construct intentions that lead to the next action episode in the real world” (p. 15). This approach helps students to think less about “what do I want to be,” and to consider their futures to be a more dynamic “project” that is always under construction.


  • The Design Thinking model encourages radical ideation before narrowing down to a prototype stage. Give students space and encouragement to brainstorm many crazy and impossible ideas about their futures.  It is often easier to find new insights in untenable ideas than safe ones.
  • Encourage students to prototype aspects of future paths they are considering. This might take the form of an internship, an online learning certificate, or a day of shadowing.  Burnett and Evans (2016) also encourage “prototype conversations,” which is another way of thinking about informational interviews.  Northeastern’s Employer Engagement and Career Design website has an excellent resource for students who may want to have these “prototype conversations” with people in their intended fields.
  • When engaging in conversations about their future, encourage students to share stories about their past and help them to notice connections and themes. This use of personal narratives as a tool is a way to make sense of one’s life and identity, and can help highlight future goals and options (Savickas, 2015)


Burnett, W., & Evans, D. J. (2016). Designing your life: How to build a well-lived, joyful life. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.

Rossier, J. (2015). Career adaptability and life designing. In L. Nota & J. Rossier (Eds.), Handbook of life design: From practice to theory and from theory to practice (pp. 153-167). Boston, MA, US: Hogrefe Publishing.

Savickas, M. L. (2012). Life design: A paradigm for career intervention in the 21st century. Journal of Counseling & Development, 90(1), 13-19.

Savickas, M. L. (2015). Life-design counseling manual. Rootstown, OH.