Design Thinking for Higher Education

What is design thinking?

Design thinking is a way of thinking about problems and solutions. It’s about human-centered design, not just for products but for engaging with customers, innovating within an organization, or helping people learn.

Why should you care about design thinking?

Design thinking is a way of looking at the world that’s more creative, collaborative and human-focused. It requires you to think differently about all the problems you face in life and work, from understanding your audience better to discovering new ways in which technology can be used as an aid for learning. If you’re interested in making positive change in the world around you, design thinking can help you do so more effectively by transforming your ability to solve problems at scale.

What does design thinking look like in higher ed?

Design thinking is the process of solving problems and developing new ideas. It’s about creating a human-centered solution, where the user is at the heart of the design process. Design thinking allows you to create a problem statement and then come up with a number of possible solutions for that problem — and then select among those solutions based on how well they meet your needs or desires.

How can you implement design thinking at your university?

As a first-time implementer of design thinking, it’s important to start small. You don’t need to go all in and create a design thinking program for your entire institution — start with just one class or department. Pick something you’re passionate about and that will show off the value of design thinking for your campus.

What are the barriers to adopting design thinking in higher ed?

You might be thinking, “That sounds great! How can I get started?” Well, before you do anything else, take a step back and consider what barriers to adoption might be in your way. Design thinking isn’t a silver bullet that will solve all of your problems or even one that will work for everyone. If you’re not careful about how you approach it, design thinking could take a lot of time and resources from your team without producing much value. For example:

  • It can be difficult to implement with a large number of stakeholders who are not all on board with its principles;
  • It can also be difficult to implement when your organization is large enough that some teams aren’t willing or able to collaborate with each other; and finally…
  • The process itself is hard work — you have to put in the hours before you get any results out of it!

Institutions that use design thinking are more successful by every measure.

Design thinking is a process that helps you create products and services that people need. That’s it. It’s not about the latest technology or design fads — it’s about using human-centered innovation to solve real problems in the world.

  • The United States Army was losing soldiers during training exercises because they couldn’t find their way out of the woods at night when they were lost on foot patrol in unfamiliar terrain — their maps didn’t have enough detail or context to help them navigate safely through difficult territory while also avoiding enemy fire and booby traps. So they worked with Niantic Labs (the company that created Pokemon Go) to create a new game called Ingress, which gave soldiers an augmented reality experience where they could learn how landmarks relate spatially in order to improve their ability to navigate more efficiently.
  • A hospital wanted its patients feeling more welcome during their stay by creating an app that would allow them access information about what was going on around them without having someone explain things every time someone asked for something simple (like “Where are my clothes?”). The result was a playful interface with helpful content tailored specifically for each person based on what staff know about his/her preferences from previous visits so as not only provide accurate information but also make sure it feels personalized too!


Design thinking is an approach that can work for any institution of higher education. Still, getting buy-in and support for such a large-scale change is challenging. But the more schools that adopt design thinking, the more universities will come around to the idea. And we all stand to benefit from this approach, especially when it comes to student success.



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Sascha Funk

Sascha Funk

Uni lecturer in #BKK. New Media & ED #Volleyball, #MuayThai. — @mythaiorg, hosting @FunkItPod| it’s not rain, it’s liquid sunshine