Here’s a thing I recently wrote about design thinking.
“Design Thinking” has become the word of the moment in academic, government, and business communities. Before we can address how we’ll utilize Design Thinking in our program, we must define Design. When we introduce these topics, we are very clear with our students that Design is not Art. Often “Art” is confused with “Craft”. While similar in most people’s minds, our working definition, directly attributed to A.O. Scott in the book *Better Living Through Criticism*, is that art is criticism while craft is skill in making something. In this way, a craftsperson may be highly skilled but may not be making a statement while an artist may make a statement with limited technical skills.
Our working definition of Design stems from Victor Papenek and Herbert Simon who said Design is “The conscious and intuitive effort to impose meaningful order,” and “To design is to devise courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones,” respectively. Synthesized together, our definition of Design emerges: Design is problem solving. Unlike Art that seeks to ultimately criticize, our goal is to solve and make better. In order to do this, we follow processes established by the larger Design community.
The most common stages of Design Thinking include the following steps: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. Because problems do not occur in a vacuum, we use the Empathize stage to learn as much as we can about the affected population and the, usually, ambiguous problem facing them. In Define, we take what we’ve learned in Empathize to identify the problem we will solve. In Ideate, we use creative tools and techniques to develop multiple solutions to our defined problem and narrow them down to a set of best ones. We then take those ideas and realize them in physical shapes or working software as Prototypes that are able to perform one or multiple parts of our solutions. Once these prototypes are built, we are able to Test them against the problems we set out to solve. While presented linearly, it is important to know that this process is anything but. What we prototype might inform our defined problem enabling us to reimagine it in a new ideation phase. The testing phase might reveal new insights about our target audience and help us empathize better.
At the University of Baltimore, our Design philosophy is to be user-centered, meaning, we put the human at the focus of everything we do. That being said, it is important to note that this process reinforces that there is no one design solution to the problem afflicting our users. There are many ways to solve a problem, but, focusing on the user enables us to find solutions that are better than others.
This is why our use and instruction of the previously described Design Thinking process is powerful when introduced to High School students. For many students, STEM education is devoid of the context of “Why” the topics are being taught the way that they are and often rely on correct or incorrect answers. Presenting Design Thinking alongside of the Scientific Method empowers students to tackle complex problems that might not be clearly defined or be simply solved with one solution. While different than their traditional coursework, it is most representative of the work they will face in their careers.