Design thinking is a powerful tool to really get your students thinking about and tackling a problem or topic at a much deeper level. It is a structured task that focuses on giving considerable time to thinking about and empathising with the people within the situation (Target audience or client), designing and prototyping a possible solution that is immediately challenged in order to improve it. It is used much in business and the design industry but can be used as a general classroom task within any subject area. It also gets students to work quickly without much introduction.
Design thinking promotes creative thinking, team work, and student responsibility for learning.
It is a form of solution-based, or solution-focused thinking; starting with a goal (a better future situation) instead of solving a specific problem. This keeps minds open to multiple solutions.
The core rules behind Design Thinking:
- The Human Rule: All Design Activity Is Ultimately Social in Nature
- The Ambiguity Rule: Design Thinkers Must Preserve Ambiguity
- The Re-design Rule: All Design Is Re-design
- The Tangibility Rule: Making Ideas Tangible Always Facilitates Communication
The infographic / poster above is a guide to a simplified version you can use in your classroom. This version can be carried out in an hour, over a week, or even longer.
This versions splits the task into 5 key stages. It’s good to set fixed time frames for each of these stages and for their sub stages.
1. Goal Setting (Whole Class)
HOW MIGHT WE DESIGN / ACTION WHAT AND FOR WHOM IN ORDER TO CHANGE SOMETHING?
The first stage is to devise an atoll goal to improve something. This is best started with 3 key words: “How might we …” Starting this way can have a powerful effect on successful classroom engagement. “How” is a word that has a bias towards action. It implied the something is to be done. “Might” acts as a safety blanket as it offers the students the freedom to fail. This ensures that more are likely to give it a go. “We” pushes the collective responsibility and collaborative aspect meaning nobody will be alone. It also removes the classroom hierarchy, bringing the teacher onto the same level as learner alongside the students.
During this goal setting stage it is important to select as a class:
- “WHAT” = An object – E.g. App, Gadget, Speech, Toy, Campaign, Website etc.
- “WHOM” = A Specific Client/target – E.g playground users, garbage droppers etc.
- “CHANGE” = A better world – E.g. Target result, Improved situation,
- How might we design a toy for children to encourage recycling?
- How might we make school furniture for students better suit 21st century learning?
- How might we redefine the museum visit so that it’s student-led and more engaging?
As an extra idea, I have considered it even as a fun theoretical teaching task such as:
- How might an iPad app have helped George Washington win the War of independence in half the time?
There’s nothing to stop posting up a number of big ideas or challenges for teams to pick from but ensure the students have been part of formulating them.
2. Thinking – Individual then Group
Decide on an amount of time that students will individually think around the topic. This personal thinking space is important for letting quiet, reflective and deeper thinking take place to start the process off. This might only be 5 or 10 minutes but means more will come to the table when the group starts discussions.
The individual thoughts are then brought to the group. I recommend groups of 3 or 4 as bigger than this can become less manageable for the students.
a) Facts b) Opinions c) Interactions
This is the crucial stage where considering the people and situation that the solution will be dealing with is broken down into 3 stages to help the students allow for as fuller picture as possible. These 3 stages might take anything from 10 to 30 minutes.
- First the Profile the target as a list of facts. What do they do? What do they have? What are we dealing with physically?
- Second they imagine or research all the typical opinions and feelings that the solution will have to allow for.
- Thirdly they consider all the connections within the situation. Who talks to who? Who shares things with who? Who or what competing with what or who?
By the end of this stage, the students will have done far more genuine thinking about the situation than they might have done if asked to just “research the situation.”
4. Solution Design – “Ideate”
A minimum of 20 minutes is now needed for the group to dream up a solution. The important emphasis here is that no idea should be squashed too quickly. Let the students dream up ideas that may or may not be possible and allow the discussion and challenge evolve. The point of this whole process is for all possibilities to surface and be challenged. Sometimes the craziest idea can lead to successful divergent solutions.
App and gadget design can be applied to most situations and the fact that the students may or may not be able to make the final product should’t matter and allows them to focus on the needs that the product meets.
5. Prototype Critique – Feedback & Improve
This stage simultaneously develops multiple skills whilst also encouraging a more optimistic growth-mindset as teams present and challenge each other. The emphasis here must be on growing ideas and not judgements. One thing I would highlight to students is that designers and problem solvers always seek advice and feedback and so can use and appreciate anything that gets fed back to them.
Even after good thinking and empathising stages, there’s always a number of “what ifs” that any team will not have thought of. This also highlights to all students that there’s always another view and this feedback loop is key to any significant success that will last. Just keep asking why? why? why?
Which apps help with Design Thinking?
Essentially, the apps that help design thinking are those that allow students to collaborate around their ideas and creative output. Here’s a few to help.
Secrative can be used to canvas the class for foreseen problems to be solved and once target problems are chosen, it can then ask students to submit How might we… questions to frame the task around.
Nearpod can also be used to collate the class ideas for problems.
Drawp is another great collaborative system and app for class activities.
Talkboard is an instant and free collaborative drawing board for the group to scribble down ideas on. Might need a stylus to get the best from this.
Prezzi can be used to present a plan.
Design Think Links and Info
NoTosh are a key organisation pushing Design Thinking in education. Great info and resources.
Stanford Uni have produced a whole crash course in Design Thinking!