Design Thinking

Design Thinking

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Design thinking is a style of thinking. It is generally considered the ability to combine empathy, creativity, and rationality. While design thinking has become part of the popular lexicon in contemporary design and engineering practice, as well as business and management, its broader use in describing a particular style of creative thinking-in-action is having an increasing influence on twenty-first century education across disciplines. [1]

Therefore, as approach to learning it consists in a creative process based around the building up of ideas. There are no judgments early on in design thinking. This eliminates the fear of failure and encourages maximum input and participation in the ideation and prototype phases. Outside the box thinking is encouraged in these earlier processes since this can often lead to creative solutions. This differs from the scientific method, which starts with defining all the parameters of the problem in order to define the solution. Rather, the design way of problem solving starts with a solution in order to start to define enough of the parameters to optimize the path to the goal. The solution, then, is actually the starting point. This methodology includes considering real-world problems, research, analysis, conceiving original ideas, lots of experimentation, and sometimes building things by hand. It’s not part of traditional teacher training programs and has only recently entered the teachers’ vernacular [2] .

Design thinking is also a way to make people more effective and to increase their innate capabilities. Teachers have to foster each student’s individual creativity, helping them think critically about how and where they get their best ideas. For examples, one student discovers his best ideas come after he has played sports; while another student finds that shutting herself in a closet where she is not affected by anyone else is the most productive.

Teaching and training with design thinking takes some specific qualities: a fair amount of flexibility and resourcefulness, open mindedness, curiosity, the ability to question beyond the facts, a positive attitude, high energy levels, and excitement about interdisciplinary approaches. More than anything, some testimonials say that the educator should “firmly believe that if you tell an answer to a child you’ve deprived them of a great learning opportunity.” [3]


Toolkit.png Toolkit: Design Thinking process

Step by Step Process


  • Understanding is the first phase of the design thinking process. During this phase, students immerse themselves in learning. They talk to experts and conduct research. The goal is to develop background knowledge through these experiences. They use their developing understandings as a springboard as they begin to address design challenges.


  • Students become keen people watchers in the observation phase of the design thinking process. They watch how people behave and interact and they observe physical spaces and places. They talk to people about what they are doing, ask questions and reflect on what they see. The understanding and observation phases of design thinking help students develop a sense of empathy.


  • In this phase of design thinking, the focus is on becoming aware of peoples’ needs and developing insights. The phrase “How might we....” is often used to define a point of view, which is a statement of the: user + need + insight.

This statement ends with a suggestion about how to make changes that will have an impact on peoples’ experiences.


  • Ideating is a critical component of design thinking. Students are challenged to brainstorm a myriad of ideas and to suspend judgment. No idea is to far-fetched and no one’s ideas are rejected. Ideating is all about creativity and fun. In the ideation phase, quantity is encouraged. Students may be asked to generate a hundred ideas in a single session. They become silly, savvy, risk takers, wishful thinkers and dreamers of the impossible...and the possible.


  • Prototyping is a rough and rapid portion of the design process. A prototype can be a sketch, model, or a cardboard box. It is a way to convey an idea quickly. Students learn that it is better to fail early and often as they create prototypes.


  • Testing is part of an iterative process that provides students with feedback. The purpose of testing is to learn what works and what doesn’t, and then iterate. This means going back to your prototype and modifying it based on feedback. Testing ensures that students learn what works and what doesn’t work for their users.[4]

Job Aid

Pdf.png Design Thinking process

Link icon.png Web Resources
Find below additional information and resources.
Link Content
Design Thinking Movie (video,2:28 minutes) The trailer of a documentary exploring the idea of Design Thinking.
Design Thinking: Lessons for the Classroom An article analyzing Design Thinking features for educators.
Design Thinking for Educators An online platform for and about teachers using Design Thinking. Video testimonials available. You can download the "Design Thinking Toolkit for Educators".
Design Thinking article Thinking like a designer can transform the way you develop products, services, processes and strategy. This is an article published in the Harvard Business Review that can teach you how to deliver a great plan.


  1. (13 March 2013)
  2. (4 March 2013)
  3. (4 March 2013)
  4. (13 March 2013)