Design Thinking: Teaching to Problem-Solve in Creative Ways

When you realize the value of creativity, one of the questions that begin to probe your mind is: how can I get started integrating innovation and creativity in learning environments?

One approach is through Design Thinking

Design Thinking is a problem-solving process that begins by seeking to understand the end user of a product and challenge and redefine ideas and assumptions about making that product to better suit the needs of the end user.

What does design thinking look like in the real world?

There was a doctor named Doug Dietz who saw a problem with our modern MRI system.

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The problem he found was that children were really scared to go into the system, so it was hard for them to be still enough to get a clear scan. To resolve this issue, Dr. Dietz thought about what designs changes could be done to the machine to make it less intimidating to kids. The results were amazing.

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Dr. Dietz created whole worlds that made the MRI become a portal into a new adventure. Kids responded well to the new machine and were excited to use it. (I would be too.)

These are the sort of out of the box solutions that the world is craving on a large scale, but this kind of thinking is also needed on a smaller scale. Take, for example, a janitor in a hospital at night. The janitor is told to vacuum in the waiting room, but he realizes that a family is sleeping in that area right now. Instead of disturbing the family while they sleep, he decides to do some of the other work on his shift and come back to vacuum at a later time. His design thinking provided extra quality of care for the customers when they needed it the most. We can’t train employees fast enough to meet the demand for creative thinkers like this.  

What are the steps in Design Thinking?

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Images from Jeff Goodman, Dept. of Curriculum and Instruction, Appalachian State University

  1. Empathize
    1. Think about the people experiencing the problem and in need of your solution
    2. Imagine how they feel and what it is like to live their life
    3. Gain perspective about them through market research such as interviews, historical sketches, etc.
  2. Define
    1. Outline what the problem actually is including any sub-parts of it
    2. Identify what you want to achieve by solving this problem
    3. Identify any barriers to solving the problem
  3. Ideate (Brainstorm)
    1. Think through the issues defined about the problem and its proposed customers
    2. Sketch out ideas to resolve the problem and meet the needs of the customer
    3. Work together in groups and/or on collaborative software such as Google Draw or Google Docs
  4. Prototype
    1. Create a 3-D model of what the solution to the problem will be
    2. Physically build the solution in a replica form; don’t just let it stay on paper or conversation
    3. Work together in groups and/or on collaborative software such as Google Draw or Google Docs
  5. Test
    1. Conduct a series of experiments to test the product with consumers to see if it fixed the problem
    2. Modify the product as needed to obtain the desired solution
    3. Repeat this process as necessary till a workable product is obtained

How can we use design thinking in the classroom?

Design thinking is more than creating a project for students to complete together. It is more like creating a story with many complex and interworking parts. Design thinking should be something that challenges students to do research and think through problems that develop along the way on their own or in a collaborative group. 

Imagine having students identify a reoccurring problem in the class and set about creating a solution to fix it?

What if they decided to work together to create their own survival kit for a bomb shelter in World War II?

What sort of business could students design that would also give back to charities in the community?

Given a set budget and a travel book to a foreign country, what sort of vacation would they plan?

What could students do to provide supplies for a fall-out shelter if you have to make your own energy, clean water, and food?


To find out more about Design Thinking and why some of the world’s leading brands and top universities are using it, check out this website.



One thought on “Design Thinking: Teaching to Problem-Solve in Creative Ways

  1. Pingback: Why Creativity is Important in a Classroom – Whitman's Academics: An Educator's Blog

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