Using Design Thinking to Develop a Career Development Plan SWOT Analysis

Early studies of design thinking in business education focused on how the process could be used to solve management problems (Lee & Evans, 2012; Liedtka, 2014; Martin & Martin, 2009). More recently, design thinking has been introduced as a way for students to explore career interests, career planning, career transitions, and finding fulfillment in career and life (Evans & Burnett, 2016). Leading human resources associations, such as the Society for Human Resource Management, advocate using design thinking to redesign careers by focusing on curiosity, finding the right problem to solve, prototyping various career options, and seeking support from others (Hirsch, 2017).

Design Thinking model

Design thinking is an innovative approach to problem solving, defining a problem and using various approaches to solve it. What is unique about design thinking is that it encourages people to make mistakes and, in fact, mistakes are part of the process of growth and problem solving (Emerson, 2020). The Stanford Design Thinking model has become the main model of design thinking, and it has five phases: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test (Hasso Plattner Institute of Design of Stanford University, 2018). The Business Education Design Thinking Instructional Model (Wickam et al., 2022) uses the Stanford model and adds reflection as an indirect part of the process, since reflection is central to each stage and is not clearly defined in the Stanford model. For example, written assignments and class discussions are tasks that can be used to help students reflect on each stage of the design thinking process (Clark & ​​Brennan, 1991; Grandzol & Grandzol, 2006; Wickam et al., 2022).

Creating a career development plan

With Evans & Burnett’s (2016) design-your-life approach in mind, two sections of an upper-level Business Communication course taught in a College of Management at a private Midwestern university were revamped to include the design thinking process. The researchers hoped to understand how design thinking helps students explore innovative career development and helps students create a career development plan. There were 17 students in the face-to-face course and 23 in the online course. The majors represented included project management, graphic design, psychology, marketing, business management and accounting.

The challenge of designing a career is seen as a “wicked problem”. Buchanan (1992) popularized the term and defined it as: “a class of problems in poorly formulated social systems where information is confusing, where there are many customers and decision makers with conflicting values, and where there are consequences for the entire system. they are confused (p. 15).The wicked problems the students were asked to solve were ways to research career paths and explore personal contributions to employees through career development planning to expand their career readiness and self-development.

SWOT analysis

The five stages of the Stanford Design Thinking process were used to structure the course. Design thinking activities and assessments were designed in each phase of the course. Activities such as Party Planning, 1000 Uses Challenges and the Marshmallow Challenge were used to teach students how to come up with ideas. The summative evaluation of the idea phase was the Career Development Plan SWOT Analysis. SWOT analysis is a popular management tool used in many business plans to develop strategies based on a company’s analysis of its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. The aim of the ideate stage was to gain students an understanding of career development and the workforce by linking knowledge, skills and abilities to job requirements. Students were asked to consider their transferable skills to identify their strengths and development needs. They were also asked to research the opportunities and threats of the workforce. SWOT was then used to categorize their ideas to help develop a career development plan later in the course.

To prepare for the SWOT analysis, students were given a Success Tracking Sheet and a Bug Tracking Sheet for one week to document their successes and mistakes. Examples of mistakes include getting a low grade on an exam, not studying, being late for work, or not completing homework. Students also tracked threats and opportunities, which are external factors that can help or hinder career development. Threats were defined as negative external conditions and factors that cannot be controlled but can be minimized through awareness and proactivity. Opportunities were defined as positive external conditions and factors that cannot be controlled but can be exploited and used to create advantages. Their peers were asked to listen and watch the news to identify threats and opportunities to their career goals. Students then interviewed each other using Success Tracking and Error Tracking worksheets and demonstrated empathy and listening skills. Additionally, students participated in a class brainstorming session about recorded threats and opportunities to further develop their brainstorming skills.

All these documents and exercises were then used to create a Career Development Plan SWOT Analysis. Students can create their own SWOT Analyzes in Canva, Visme, Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets, Microsoft PowerPoint, or Google Slides. The assignment rubric assessed format, ability to present information/data in a visual format, and content. Students were honest and thoughtful in assessing their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. For example, one student listed reliability as a strength, procrastination as a weakness, technology dominance as an opportunity, and AI as a threat to his graphic design career goal.

In line with the stages of design thinking, SWOT Analysis was used to create a prototype of a career development plan, which was then presented to the whole class. The testing phase was completed through oral feedback on student presentations and teacher assignments. Furthermore, the need for continuous improvement through feedback and feedback from peers, customers, managers and industry experts was emphasized as part of the forward testing phase. Research has found that business educators who teach design thinking use classroom presentations most often during the testing phase (Wickam, et al., 2022), with role-plays and observations being other ways to test prototypes (Dam & Siang, 2021).

Overall, students were able to use the SWOT Analysis used in the Ideate phase of the design thinking process to develop their career development plan and research career paths to solve vexing problems to expand their career readiness and self-development. . Design thinking was found to be an effective teaching method to help students think about careers in new ways, using an innovative, empathetic, iterative and reflective process.

Dr. Molly Wickam is a professor of education and business at Bethel University, St. Paul, MN.

Dr. Lacey Finley is department chair and associate professor of management at Park University, Parkville, MO.

Dr. Karla Saeger is an associate professor of business and marketing education at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, Whitewater, WI.


Buchanan, R. (1992). Wicked problems in design thinking. Design issues, 8(2), 5-21.

Clark, HH and Brennan, SE (1991). Focus on communication. LB Resnick, JM Levine, and SD Teasley (eds.), Perspectives on shared cognition in society. American Psychological Association, (pp. 127-149).

Dam, RF and Siang, TY (2021). Stage 5 of the design thinking process: Test. Interaction Design Foundation.

Elsbach, KD and Stigliani, I. (2018). Design thinking and organizational culture: A review and framework for future research. Management magazine, 44(6), 2274–2306.

Emerson, MS (2020). Applying the principles of design thinking to career development. Harvard Extension School.

Evans, D. and Burnett, B. (2016). Designing Your Life: How to Build a Good and Happy Life. Alfred A. Knopf.

Grandzol, JR and Grandzol, CJ (2006). Best Practices for Online Business Education. International Review of Open and Distributed Learning Research, 7(1), 1-18.

Hasso Plattner Design Institute at Stanford University. (2018). Design thinking bootleg.

Hirsch, AS (2017, March 6). Use design thinking to improve your career. Human Resource Management Association.

Lee, Y., & Evans, DM (2012). What motivates organizations to use design-based approaches? A study of the rapid development of the consumer goods brand. Design Management Journal, 7(1), 74-88.

Liedtka J. (2014). Innovative ways that companies use design thinking. Strategy and leadership, 42(2), 40-45.

Martin, R. and Martin, RL (2009). Business Design: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage. Harvard Business Press. Wickam, MJ, Finley, LR, & Saeger, KJ (2022). The advancement of design thinking in secondary and post-secondary business education. CTE

Post views: 72

Related Articles

Sorry, delete AdBlocks

Add Ban ads I wish to close them