What is ‘design’ and how do we teach it?

Skills associated with the design process are currently in demand across multiple industries. The act of design and its processes range from the purely physical to sociological1.

The theory of design thinking relies on three major concepts2:

1) Empathy – Actively valuing the experience of the end user and

understanding the factors that improve or detract from their experience.

2) Ideation – The process of iteration and creative freedom in which many ideas are generated and modified. This process involves both definition of the problem and desired experience as well as ideation of possible experiences that provide the desired experience.

3) Experimentation – Prototyping the object or experience, testing with users and then adjusting accordingly.

Within a designXD course students are encouraged to focus on the experience of the user. A clear definition of goals are established and criteria for evaluation of those goals are agreed upon. The goals are then pursued, tested and evaluated. This follows the framework of design thinking. The skills used in design thinking apply to areas outside of the experience with our classes.

Regardless of the job sector the process of design thinking can be used to great effect. This does not require the actor to be in a position of power within the organization though it certainly could. Often times innovations within an industry originate in a worker identifying an area that could be improved upon, often to make the workers life easier or safer and then trying the novel concept. Like most things successive experiences of success in design thinking increase the likelihood that an individual will engage in design thinking in their day to day life.

With the increasing likelihood of more and more automation throughout the remainder of this century, jobs that themselves can not be automated are becoming more and more appealing and will eventually become essential. The job of designing an experience so that it is more effective and engaging for the user is something that computers are ill-suited to achieve. Consequently training in these areas will provide valuable skills for citizens of the 21st century.

  1. Kimbell, Lucy. (2011). Rethinking Design Thinking: Part I. Design and Culture. 3. 285-306. 10.2752/175470811X13071166525216.
  2. Schon, Donald A.  (1983). The reflective practitioner : how professionals think in action.  New York : Basic Books

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