What is Design Thinking?

Most of us have heard of STEM and Makerspaces, but what is Design Thinking?

In the past few decades, a well-defined problem-solving method from the world of design has made significant inroads in higher education and the business world as well as the creative arts and humanities. Design Thinking is process in which to identify alternative strategies and solutions for reaching a deep level of understanding of a challenge, issue or project. The process helps in questioning a problem, assumptions, and overall implications by re-framing the issue in fresh new ways. Design Thinking also involves ongoing experimentation: prototyping, testing, and trying out concepts and ideas.

This method has revealed distinct advantages for learners. It teaches problem solving, which is an important skill for all. The method’s reliance on a multi-disciplinary team approach develops valuable teamwork skills, and its formal problem-solving model encourages understanding and empathy for those most impacted by any problem being explored.

Within the Makerspace and STEM environment, Design Thinking in combination with Makerspace and Stem helps students achieve extraordinary results. Design thinking has the added benefit of helping people become more innovative in their problem-solving activities.

Those are all skills or characteristics students need to succeed in life — regardless of the career path they choose. Design thinking is being taught and used in some of our best universities, but there is a movement to introduce it at a much earlier age. Irving Wladawsky-Berger, a former IBM executive, believes that design thinking may be the new liberal arts that complements the sciences.[1] He writes, “Design thinking is now being applied to abstract entities, such as systems and services, as well as to devise strategies, manage change and solve complex problems.” He goes on to quote Roger Martin, a former Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, who stated, “Learning how to think critically — how to imaginatively frame questions and consider multiple perspectives — has historically been associated with a liberal arts education.” Design thinking may sound like a liberal arts approach, but scientists, engineers, technicians, and mathematicians should all feel comfortable with its methodology.

Steps of the Design Process

Design Thinking is generally broken down into five phases:

1. Empathize with your users or those who will benefit

most from your solution

2. Define the problem, your users’ needs, and your insights

3. Ideate by challenging assumptions and creating ideas for innovative solutions. This could involve research and brainstorming, ultimately leading toward a solution to develop.

4. Prototype to start creating a solution or solutions.

5. Test and evaluate solutions, redesigning and refining if necessary.These five phases or stages do not have to follow any specific order and can often occur in parallel and repeat iteratively. Unlike a solely scientific approach, where the majority of known aspects of a problem are tested, the Design Thinking process includes ambiguous elements of the problem to uncover alternative strategies.

The methodology commonly referred to as design thinking is a proven and repeatable problem-solving protocol that any business or profession, or educational institution can employ to achieve extraordinary results.

Happy Design Thinking!

[1] Irving Wladawsky-Berger, “Is Design Thinking the New Liberal Arts?” The Wall Street Journal, 4 November 2016.

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