Design thinking methodologies

Design thinking is a term used to describe the process of design that solves problems in a structured way. Originating in the design industry, it is a methodology that has now been implemented by decision makers in many other fields including management, public health, Government organisations, and, of course, education (Best, 2011 & Melles, Howard & Thompson-Whiteside, 2011).

The design thinking approach is a process that is both creative and analytical. It is a cyclical process that begins with research, then experimentation, creating prototypes, gathering feedback, and then redesigning based on those discoveries (Razzouk & Shute, 2012).

Small milestones are met throughout the process with feedback and reassessment conducted on the completion of each. The achievements and findings in one milestone will inform the practice in the next. In education this can be facilitated with formative assessment.

Razzouk and Shute define design thinking as ‘an analytic and creative process that engages a person in opportunities to experiment, create and prototype models, gather feedback, and redesign’ (2012, p. 330).

In this case, the teacher is the designer, and the product they are designing is the ongoing process of best practice. Best practice is not a static set of terms, just as there is no single design which suits all clients; it is responsive to the individual students, the content and the learning environment. It has as its central aim, the improved learning outcomes for all students and it achieves this by gathering feedback (in this case, the results of formative assessment).

Design thinking is important to my teaching practice as when it is used correctly it can create ‘emergent learning spaces’ (Crowhurst, 2015) whilst fostering creativity.

Seymour Papert was a constructionist who built on the ideas of both Piaget and Vygotsky, claiming that ‘the role of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention’ (Papert, 1993). These ‘conditions for invention’ or ‘emergent spaces’ can be created when taking a design thinking approach to learning. The design thinking process can be broken into five distinct stages:

  • DISCOVERY Understanding the challenge. Preparing research. Gathering inspiration.
  • INTERPRETATION Telling stories. Searching for meaning.
  • IDEATION Generate ideas. Refine ideas.
  • EXPERIMENTATION Make prototypes. Get feedback.
  • PRESENTATION & EVOLUTION Present learnings. Track learnings & move forward.