Design Thinking and Higher Education

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Design Thinking

Perhaps the most critical challenge facing most institutions will be to develop the capacity for change; to remove the constraints that prevent institutions from responding to the needs of the rapidly changing societies; to remove unnecessary process and administrative structures to question existing premises and arrangements and to challenge, excite, and embolden all members of the campus community to embark on what I believe will be a great adventure (Duderstadt, 1999).

What can design thinking offer to higher education? In a word, change. Not just change for the sake of creating change or trying the latest fad, but thoughtful change for the higher education institution that wants to position itself to better withstand the challenges presented by both old and new competitors. Change not just for technology's sake, but change based on better understanding students and putting into a place a mechanism for institution-wide innovation (Bell, 2010).

Higher education in the 21st century faces unprecedented challenges (Duderstadt, 1999). The convergence of three forces: globalization, the emergence of the knowledge society, and the accelerating nature of social and technological change, represent a new paradigm of knowledge production (Moravec, 2008).  This new paradigm requires colleges and universities to be innovative leaders charged with successfully propelling learners into our knowledge-driven future. If cultivating innovation and supporting institutional change is the charge of the university in the 21st century this is problematic because institutional inertia has traditionally plagued these efforts (Trower, 2008; Hanna, 2000).  

At the core of the discussion is how leaders will transform their institutions to respond to an ever-changing educational landscape. Design thinking offers a new lens for higher education leaders to embrace innovative solutions to rapidly evolving problems.

What is design thinking?

"Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer's toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for success." -- Tim Brown, IDEO president and CEO.  

How does design thinking work?

The best way to explain design thinking is by demonstrating the process.  In this video, "The Deep Dive", the design firm IDEO uses design thinking to re-imagine the shopping cart. 

What are the steps in the process?

1. Empathize

2. Define

3. Ideate

4. Prototype

5. Test

Has design thinking been used in higher education?

-In 2005, Stanford launched the to provide students from across campus an opportunity to learn design thinking.  Their certificate program focuses on interdisciplinary approaches to problem solving, with an emphasis on entrepreneurial projects focused on creating innovations for the public good (Stanford Website, 2011).

-Arizona State University recently used design thinking to re-imagine its role as a public university in the 21st century.  ASU President Michael Crow began the transformation process by asking, "do we replicate what exists, or do we design what we need?" (Krishnan, 2010).  After a period of generating ideas, ASU launched a "New American University" project guided by eight design aspirations: 1) leverage our place, 2) transform society, 3) value entrepreneurship, 4) conduct use-inspired research, 5) enable student success, 6) fuse intellectual discipline, 7) be socially embedded, and 8) engage globally (Arizona State University Website, 2010).

Where can I learn more about design thinking?

Standford d.School Design Thinking Philosophy

Standford Hasso Plattner School of Design 2010 Bootcamp Bootleg.

IDEO Design Thinking For Educators Toolkit.

IDEO Human Centered Design Toolkit and Field Guide.


Bell, S. (2010). "Design Thinking" and Higher Education. Inside Higher Ed, 

Duderstadt, J. J. (1999). Can Colleges and Universities Survive in the Information Age?. In R. N. Katz (Ed.), Dancing with the Devil: Information Technology and the New Competition in Higher Education (pp. 1-25). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Hanna, D. E. (2000). Higher Education In An Era of Digital Competition: Choices and Challenges (p. 362). Madison, WI: Atwood Publishing.

Krishnan, R. T. (2010). Deisgn Thinking in Higher Education. EduTech For Leaders in Higher Education.

Moravec, J. W. (2008). A New Paradigm of Knowledge Production in Higher Education. On the Horizon, 16(3), 123-136. 

Trowler, P. (2008). Cultures and Change in Higher Education. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

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Great post. The Arizona State example is very interesting. It is interesting to think how design thinking can be used at many levels in an organization.

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This page contains a single entry by Paul Zenke published on July 8, 2011 3:23 PM.

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