What is Design Thinking and Why Is It So Popular

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Design Thinking is a professional process that engineers and designers use to ideate, prototype, and test new inventions, ideas, and products, emerging in K-12 education as a strategy for use in the classroom as well as a tool used for total school improvement.

SparkTruck inspired me to later create my own mobile Design Thinking vehicle called the Geekbus. Since then, I have gone on to teach Design Thinking to students and educators all over the world.

So, what is Design Thinking? I highly recommend this quick video introduction to get acquainted.

There are 5 main steps to Design Thinking:

1. Empathy

2. Define

3. Ideate

4. Prototype

5. Test.

The first step is the most impactful because it requires designers/students to consider the needs of the customer/user. This allows for the development of crucially needed social-emotional skills.

In contrast, the Engineering Design Process does not include this step and goes straight to the ideation and the problem-solving stage without careful consideration of the needs of the people involved. 

There are many ways to gain empathy for the customers/users that you’re designing for, but the best way is to speak directly to them through interviews to ask about their needs, pain-points and to get advice about what they really want and not just what we think they want.

If interviewing customers/users isn’t a viable option, you can brainstorm through empathetic thinking to imagine scenarios where people would use your idea and how they might respond to it.

Design Thinking can be used to create and make products, processes, events, organizations, and even food! The process is adaptable to many situations and once you have some practice with it, it can become a culture-changing practice that can be transformative at whole-school levels.

While Design Thinking can be a useful and practical tool for many situations, it also has limits. One criticism of Design Thinking is that it becomes a crutch and doesn’t help to cultivate what the d.school is calling Design Abilities.

Their 8 Core Design Abilities are: 

  • Navigate Ambiguity
  • Learn from Others
  • Synthesize Information
  • Rapidly Experiment
  • Move Between Concrete and Abstract
  • Build and Craft Intentionally
  • Communicate Deliberately
  • Design your Design Work

If you want to read more about these 8 Core Design Abilities, I recommend that you read the d.school’s description of each ability and the need for an approach that moves beyond Design Thinking.
Design Thinking has left a lasting impact on me and my work, which continues to this day in my work as an ed-tech leader and curriculum designer at BSD Education.

At BSD, we use the Design Think process to develop a new curriculum and to build new features on our custom coding platform. If you want to learn more about our approach at BSD, check out our certified curriculum design process.

about Mark
Mark is Vice President of Education. He is passionate about project-based learning and teaching students to create with technology.
With experience in STEAM and maker education, he has consulted with teachers and administrators all over the world to setup and design impactful learning experiences with makerspaces and related education themes. He speaks internationally about equity and access to STEAM and maker education, most notably at the Stanford FabLearn Conference, MIT Libre Learn Lab, SXSWedu, EARCOS in Bangkok, UNESCO in India and at 21st Century Learning in Hong Kong.

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