Design thinking seems to be the latest and greatest trend that will change the face of education (or not). However, the notion that design thinking can be simplified into a step-by-step process is absurd (click here to read a brief history of design thinking). As a designer myself–and thus a design thinker–I understand that the way I think when I go about solving an instructional problem is not in fact limited to the ADDIE model, which has similarities to the most oft-cited model that depicts the design thinking process. At the core of my instructional design thinking is knowledge: knowledge of instructional design models, knowledge of instructional design principles, knowledge of learning theories, knowledge of research methods, knowledge of technology integration, knowledge of what good learning design looks likes (and bad). Furthermore, the way I think as an instructional designer is not the way an engineer thinks, or an architect thinks, or a graphic designer thinks. To think like any one of those types of designers would require becoming one. So, here are my thoughts on design thinking:
- Design thinking is not a generic way of thinking. Design thinking is a contextual way of thinking.
- There are as many ways of design thinking as types of designers.
- Design thinking cannot be taught.
- Design thinking is the application of expert knowledge. Expert knowledge comes from training (formal education, apprenticeships).
- Design thinking is the outcome of expert learning.
Does the generic design thinking process have utility? Certainly, as long as we realize that the outcome of using a generic design thinking model with students is probably not radically different from using any generic problem-solving model. In fact, the scientific method is not that different from the 5-step design thinking process, as illustrated in the table below:
|Design Thinking Process||Scientific Method|
|Empathize||Ask a Question|
|Define the problem||Do Background Research|
|Ideate (brainstorm)||Construct a Hypothesis|
|Prototype||Design the Study|
|Test||Test the Hypothesis|
Empathizing requires asking questions. Defining the problem requires background research. Ideating should stem from the defined problem in the same way that a hypothesis is formed from knowledge gained during background research. Both prototype design and study design require systematic planning. Finally, testing is essential to both processes. You can even compare the Big6 to the Design Thinking Process and see similarities.
Using a design thinking model does not turn students into design thinkers anymore than the scientific method turns students into scientists or the Big6 model turns students into librarians. But, these generic problem solving models do offer a guide for developing critical thinking and problem solving skills IF they are tied to a strong knowledge base (e.g., reading, research, curriculum). Design thinking is just the latest player in the educational trend game.
On a final note, check out award-winning graphic designer Natasha Jen’s excellent critique of design thinking.