Experience design is typically something learned in college, or on the job during your professional life. But the process itself - and the practice of design thinking - has benefits that make it valuable at much earlier ages.
To test this theory, Anna and I partnered with a high school called the Global Citizenship Experience and offered a 6-week Experience Design course for seniors.
As often happens with the design process, we learned a lot by finding out where students struggled with the process. Happily, the materials used from Adventures in Experience Design were found to be accessible and many of the activities were both fun and informative. But students really struggled with the elements of the process of human-centered design that dealt with... well, humans.
Pretty quickly in the book's process, we have our adventurers get out in the field to interview people regarding an activity that could be improved, like commuting to work or planning an event. This involves approaching strangers to request time. Doing so can be very difficult for adults, so you can imagine it was tough for high school students who have their own set of fears and insecurities, and little related experience to draw from.
Realizing the enormous obstacles involved in approaching people, I ended up writing an article for Smashing Magazine to provide methods that help beginners get past fears of approaching people for research.
A second area where students struggled involved group work. Professional designers often have to work with a variety of people (developers, clients, project managers) and group work skills are key. Those skills can apply to all sorts of pursuits after high school, so they're valuable to learn at an earlier age. But as anyone who has had to work in a group knows, it can be very difficult - creating a plan collaboratively, understanding or taking on roles, and communicating expectations take a lot of work. Practicing this was very important for our high schoolers. It was rough, but they learned a lot from the experience.
In all, what we learned from our experiment was that the process of design thinking really stretches your social and emotional skills. Empathy, critical thinking, creativity, storytelling and decisiveness are all important to ending up with a concept that the team is proud of, addressing a real problem.