Design is interdisciplinary. Designers are people who can think holistically. – Claire Gallagher, architect
Design in its simplest form is the activity of creating solutions. Design is something that everyone does every day.
Frank Nuovo, industrial designer
Design thinking is a process combining empathy, creativity, and rationality for solving problems and discovering new opportunities. Unlike critical thinking, which is a process of analysis and is associated with the 'breaking down' of ideas, design thinking is a creative process based around the 'building up' of ideas. There are no judgments in design thinking. This eliminates the fear of failure and encourages maximum input and participation. Wild out-of-the-box ideas are welcome, since these often lead to the most creative solutions. Design thinkers discover patterns where others see complexity and confusion; they synthesize new ideas from seemingly disparate fragments; and they convert problems into opportunities.
Design thinking basically consists of four key elements:
1: Define the problem
Sounds simple but doing it right is perhaps the most important of all the four stages. Another way to say it is defining the right problem to solve. Design thinking requires a team or person to always question the problem to be solved, and to revise the opportunity before embarking on its creation and execution. It also requires cross functional insight into each problem by varied perspectives as well as constant and relentless questioning, like that of a small child, Why? Why? Why? Until finally the simple answers are behind you and the true issues are revealed.
Defining the problem via design thinking also requires the suspension of judgment in defining the problem statement. What we say can be very different to what we mean. The right words are important. It's not "design a chair;" it's “create a way to suspend a person." The goal of the definition stage is to target the right problem to solve, and then to frame the problem in a way that invites creative solutions. Question: How many designers will it take to screw in a light bulb? Answer: Why a light bulb?
2: Create and consider many options
Even the most talented teams sometimes fall into the trap of solving a problem the same way every time. Design thinking requires that no matter how obvious the solution may seem many solutions should be created for consideration. And created in a way that allows them to be judged equally as possible answers. Looking at a problem from more than one perspective always yields richer results.
3: Refine selected directions
A handful of promising results need to be embrace and nurtured, given a chance to grow protected from the evil idea-killers of previous experience. Even the strongest of new ideas can be fragile in their infancy. Design thinking allows their potential to be realized by creating an environment conducive to growth and experimentation, and the making of mistakes in order to achieve out of the ordinary results. At this stage many times options will need to be combined and smaller ideas integrated into the selected schemes that make it through.
4: Pick the winner, execute
At this point enough road has been traveled to insure success. It's the time to commit resources to achieve the early objectives. The byproduct of the process is often other unique ideas and strategies that are tangential to the initial objective as defined. Prototypes of solutions are created in earnest, and testing becomes more critical and intense. At the end of stage 4 the problem is solved or the opportunity is fully uncovered.
That said, the outline above is a structure and while it may seem counter intuitive, structure can be one of the key elements to enhancing creativity in problem solving. Design legend Charles Eames said: "Design depends largely on constraints." This is very true. Sometimes you need to draw the box in order to know what to break out of. After that, the manner in which options are considered, ideas are refined, and selections are executed are the key.
Mark Dziersk, Design Thinking … What is That? Fast Company, 2008
Problem Based Learning
In addition to enhancing a broad range of thinking skills, Problem Based Learning may prove effective for creativity. PBL was originally developed in medical schools as a result of the recognition that being an effective doctor involves much more than factual knowledge of anatomy and biology.
The PBL process begins by breaking students into teams, giving them an ill-structured, ill-defined problem, with some information, but not enough to work out the case. The teams discuss what they know and what they don’t, so they can define the core of the information they need to gather, and then establish how they will resolve the issues. After gathering information and developing one or more solutions for the problem, teams engage in self-assessment. To be effective, PBL should be interactive between students and teachers and should involve minimal lecture. Teachers should serve as facilitators of the teams’ learning processes, or as metacognitive coaches, but not as the authoritative source of knowledge. Maintaining the role as a guide and resisting the temptation to put students on the right path is key to the effectiveness of the method. Also, the teacher should establish an environment where it’s okay to make mistakes.
The “ill-definition” of the problem is a key aspect of PBL that differentiates it from more traditional approaches. In typical classrooms, students are given problems after the relevant information has been taught, giving the misleading impression that problems only arise in circumstances where all information needed for solution building is available. In PBL, the order of learning is inverted to reflect real life learning and problem solving. Ill-defined problems allow students to undergo a process of problem finding through which they may define a problem themselves in a way that engages them and is relevant to their particular learning level and style.
Executed correctly, PBL programs have shown significant promise to increase a broad range of thinking abilities, including creative thinking, and help link education to relevant, ill-defined, real-life experience. This connection is crucial for engaging students and increasing motivation. The more closely linked the projects are to students’ real lives and environments the more meaningful they become. Students must be empowered to control the direction of the project if it is to be successful. They should be encouraged to “think outside of the box” and define their own creative solutions to real-life problems, as posed by a problem or project-based learning approach.
Developmentally appropriate problems can be constructed so students acquire substantive skills as they address the problems. These problems can derive from various local, regional, national and international interests and challenges. “Advisors” (no longer categorized as teachers) are basic skill handlers and resource technicians. Prior to student teams working on problem solutions, advisors give students formal instruction in those topics embedded in the problem. Advisors instruct students on how to work collaboratively; how to use constructive feedback, reflective thinking and questioning; and how to build consensus. They are tech-savvy enough to help students filter useful from useless information, gather supporting evidence, validate hypotheses, present arguments, and sustain cognitive challenges.
Vincent J. Hawkins, "Navigating the Future in Education: Considering a New Set of Problems."
AASA New Superintendents E-Journal. October 2009
The letters I, D, E, S, I, G, N and the words they represent refer to seven ways of thinking involved in designing.
I for Intending – Establish needs wants and goals.
Intentional Thinking is concerned with how we direct our thoughts to accomplish a purpose or goal. Intentional thinking exists until a goal is reached or is dismissed as no longer of concern. It is closely identified with the individual thinker and what they want or need.
D for Defining – Name, list and describe what is involved.
Referential Thinking is concerned with how we refer to what we perceive, recognize or know. By recognizing, identifying, describing and categorizing things we are able to refer to them using symbols, words, images and even gestures.
E for Exploring – Imagine, organize and analyze possibilities.
Relational Thinking is concerned with how we organize and analyze the things we refer to. All forms of association are involved: analogies, metaphors, logical relationships, conceptual models, networks and organizing structures such as hierarchies, compositions and arrangements. Because there are many ways things can be related, this mode of thinking requires both imagination and the ability to identify which relationships are relevant to an intention toward a situation.
S for Suggesting – Decide, present and explain your proposal.
Formative Thinking is concerned with how things and situations are perceived, expressed and interpreted. Everyone interprets things in terms of their intentions, the situation they are considering and what they already know that is relevant to the situation. Formative Thinking is focal because it is how people understand the circumstances they are in, what they want to do regarding them and how they communicate their interpretations or plan of action to others.
I for Innovation – Continually improve as you produce what is proposed.
Procedural Thinking is concerned with the sequencing and timing of actions and events, and how they can be executed to improve a situation or performance. The word innovation indicates a change in what went before and points to the process by which that change takes place.
G for Goal getting – Judge, measure and evaluate your success.
Evaluative Thinking is concerned with determining whether an intended goal has been reached and providing corrective feedback to the process of innovation until it is. Evaluative Thinking is concerned with determining the difference between the outcome of a process and its goal.
N for Knowing – Remember, integrate and apply what you learn.
Reflective Thinking is concerned with learning by looking back on an experience and remembering what is novel and useful about it. It also is concerned with how memory informs formative thinking.
Charles Burnette, IDESIGN: Seven Ways of Design Thinking, 2005