Saturday, December 12, 2015

What Design Thinking Really Is

Over the past few years I've participated in a number of online forums devoted to the subject of Design Thinking. I have a personal interest in the subject because 40 years ago I was present when the seeds of the were planted at Stanford.  I subsequently graduated from it's forerunner; the Product Design Program, and went on to successfully apply what I'd been taught there in both my personal and professional life.

Having that background in Design Thinking may help explain my amusement, amazement and occasional irritation, when someone levels a critical eye at DT and declares it a fraud. I probably should be more understanding of the critics and in fact I want to be and have spent countless hours asking myself why anyone would take issue with something which has so much potential for good.

A thought occurred to me about this recently which may bear some fruit. It has to do with something that will be familiar to teachers called Bloom's Taxonomy.

The Taxonomy of Educational Objectives came out of a series of conferences which were held between 1949 and 1953, which were designed to improve communication between educators on the design of curricula and examinations. Bloom's Taxonomy is a framework teachers use to evaluate how well a student understands a subject.

Although there are several ways to represent it, I like the pyramid-cake model because its structure closely follows the phases of Design Thinking and the behaviors associated the the highest level, which is called Create, are "combining parts to make a new whole."

All the phases in the Design Thinking process are here; The fact collecting of the Deep Dive, Empathic Inquiry leading to Understanding, Application of the ideas in Rapid Prototyping, Analyzing and Evaluating the results and the most creative step; combining things into a new whole to tell the story or solve the problem.  Another aspect of Blooms Taxonomy is its consideration for emotional content and the student's ability to appreciate other living things' pain or joy.

In today's STEM classrooms this is being taught as Problem Based Learning. My wife is teaching it to 4th graders.

Placed into the context of education, Design Thinking is a group of methods to learn what is needed to solve almost any type of problem as rapidly and efficiently as possible. At the highest level the result are creative solutions for highly complex, ambiguous, even life threatening situations.

Even our understanding of DT can be viewed in the context of Blooms Taxonomy. Novices are at the stage of gathering and recognizing facts about DT. Some have actual experience applying it to real world problems. Others are evaluating and judging its application and results. A handful are even pushing the practice to develop fuller more effective methods.

Underneath it all, Design Thinking is about learning what we need to know in order to solve life's most challenging problems. Call it what you want, as long as you "Just Do It."

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