Creating Design Thinkers

Peyton Crump, Former Design Director

Article Category: #Design & Content

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My wife, Amy, is a high school architecture teacher. I recently went with her on a trip to Boston where she attended a conference on Design Thinking for Educators. While she was at the conference, I sat in Boston Common and read Linchpin by Seth Godin. Afterwards, as we shared our notes, the similarities between the conference and my reading became very apparent.

The Concerns

Our society and educational systems are, unfortunately, extremely proficient at extinguishing creative thinking.  Society teaches us to be constant consumers—of information, entertainment, and material thingsas a shortcut to fulfillment, while education teaches us to be great conformers (test takers, rule followers, answer givers). School curriculums and tests are often overly-standardized, areas of study are notoriously disconnected, and teachers and students are taught to stay in line, question less, follow the test schedule, and everything will be fine. Status quo and boredom, unintentionally, are often the outcome for both teacher and student.

As Seth Godin puts it:

The tragedy is that our society is drumming out genius [which is in each and every one of us]. We’re engaged in a Faustian bargain, in which we trade our genius and artistry for apparent stability … and because fear is such a great motivator, classrooms become fear-based, test-based battlefields, when they could so easily be organized to encourage the heretical thought we so badly need. So, is it any surprise that people have learned to fit in, do the standardized test, keep heads down, and obey instructions? Decades of school have drilled that into us—fear, fear, and more fear. Fear of getting a D-minus. Fear of not getting a job right out of school. Fear of not fitting in.  

Some Ideas

Seth goes on to say that we should be teaching two things in schools:

1. Problem Solving
2. Leadership

He then frames these by adding “It’s far more useful [in life and work] to be able to answer the kind of question for which using Google won’t help. Questions like, “What should I do next?” Working without a map involves both vision and the willingness to do something about what you see."

Design Thinking

If you’re not familiar, Design Thinking roughly rests on the ideas of awareness and action (or vision and willingness as Seth puts it), two things that anyone can learn. It gives us a very cool framework for “working without a map”. It teaches us to be proactive and to seek out experience and change rather than waiting for someone else to do it. Largely pioneered by the global design consultancy IDEO, design thinking is working its way into education and business as an empowering toolset and system.

From IDEO:

The design thinking process is best thought of as a system of overlapping spaces rather than a sequence of orderly steps. There are three spaces to keep in mind: inspiration, ideation, and implementation. Inspiration is the problem or opportunity that motivates the search for solutions. Ideation is the process of generating, developing, and testing ideas. Implementation is the path that leads from the project stage into people’s lives.

Boiled down, it's problem solving done more through synthesis (creative process) than analysis (scientific process). It’s optimistic, and it challenges teachers and students to start with awareness of the world around them, to have empathy, and to identify desired outcomes. Then, through a multidisciplinary approach, the design thinker is taught to interpret their observations, generate and experiment with ideas, and test and evolve their solutions.

Connecting the Dots

Because design thinking is a large part of what we do at Viget, I'm excited that this push is happening in education and business. For example, the move by many educational institutions toward project-based, multidisciplinary learning shows we’re searching and experimenting, not just settling. We’re teaching children and adults to have their eyes open to possibilities and relationships, and we’re empowering them to be curious, to be hands-on, and to learn and think with the end goal of making a difference. They’re falling in love with producing actual results, not just theorizing about them. They’re realizing they can participate in design.

Here are a number of links to related resources:

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