Design Thinking in a STEAM Environment

Posted: October 19, 2018

Design Thinking in a STE(A)M Environment      

Design thinking? What’s that? Is design thinking a way of thinking with the use of graphic design, drawing, or painting? Although that is a good guess, but design thinking involves so much more!    

Design thinking is a human-centered approach or solution to creative problem solving. It is a process or mindset that helps individuals gain insights and flourishes new ideas and creativity. This type of methodology is an approach that creates a solution to a problem with empathy at the core of the solution.         

This process can be used in STE(A)M courses and activities, makerspace labs, the K-12 classroom and in higher education. Students at schools such as Stanford University, Ball State University, and Montgomery Community College have used design thinking in order to create solutions to problems.
According to Holly Morris and Greg Warman, authors of, “Using Design Thinking in Higher Education,” Ball State’s design team created an app with its goal to “encourage Pell Grant students to practice behaviors associated with higher retention and graduation rates.”        

The design team sketched its prototype, received feedback from students, and was able to gather insight based on the student’s feedback.
Design thinking is a creative problem solving process that may sounds complex, so let’s explore this new thinking a little more and understand what it’s all about by tackling its stages.  

1. Empathize
- As one of the most important steps, empathy causes us to generate insight as well as to gather a deeper understanding of the problem.
2. Define
- From observing, empathizing, gaining deeper understand of the problem, and working to develop a solution, in this stage you can now define the problem and work towards solving it.
3. Ideate
- The ideation stage is where imagination, exploration, creation, and discovery occur. In this part of design thinking, this is where ideas are created in order to find a solution to the problem.
4. Prototype
- The prototype process is where generated ideas come to life. Here, ideas are created and built to help solve problems discovered in the earlier stages. Products are built with empathy as the foundation of the solution to the problem.
5. Test
- Ideas that have been prototyped are tested to see if they are a solution to the problem or need to be reconfigured.

It is important to remember that design thinking is a mindset that can be applied by everybody. With the five steps used in design thinking, the ultimate goal is to understand how something is used, how it functions, operates, and how new creative solutions can be developed in order to solve a problem.

To give you an idea of what design thinking is like, Spectrum Industries Inc., is a niche manufacturer of classroom furniture products, uses design thinking when innovating and designing new products.     

For over 50 years Spectrum has made durable, quality products and guarantees complete customer satisfaction, Spectrum ensures this through its rigorous product testing system and by working with end-users to understand his or her problems in order to create a solution.

For example, when teachers of Fall Creek Schools in Wisconsin struggled with storage, wire management, and organization, Spectrum traveled to Fall Creek to understand the teacher’s needs and gain insight of their problems.

Spectrum soon began to gather ideas, conducted research, took to heart the teacher’s problems, and began to convert their ideas into prototypes.
Over a period of many months, Spectrum deeply considered the teacher’s thoughts, their opinions, feedback, and created alternative options and strategies in order to find a solution to the teacher’s problems.

With holding empathy at the core of Spectrum’s design thinking process for the teachers of Fall Creek, products were designed as solutions for the teacher’s challenges.

Spectrum is a company that continues to put its customers first and innovates products that connect people with technology.

Now that you have learned how Spectrum uses design thinking, how would you apply this mindset? Remember, design thinking is a hands-on approach that bring ideas to life and creates solutions to problems.

Click here to see the products Spectrum created for Fall Creek teachers through its design process.
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