D&T2 Design Thinking

D&T2 Design Thinking

"Design is intelligence made visible"

- Alina Wheeler

Design Thinking involves students developing the capacity to view problems and opportunities as challenges that can be solved through the application of their understanding of technology processes. 

Technology processes allow students to create solutions for themselves or others (end user, client or consumer). They involve the purposeful use of resources including materials, data, systems, tools and equipment when creating, designing, producing and using products, services and environments. They may involve identifying, exploring, critiquing, formulating and investigating a problem or opportunity; generating, researching and developing ideas; analysing, creating, designing, planning, producing, representing, constructing and evaluating solutions in a sustainable way, giving appropriate thought to impact. These processes typically require one or more of the following types of thinking: computational, critical, creative, design, futures or systems.

Design Thinking frames Design and Technology studies, complement these other thinking processes, and contribute to the development in students of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS).

Dr Jason Zagami


Systems Thinking

Systems Thinking is the process of understanding how things, regarded as systems, influence one another within a whole. In nature, systems thinking examples include ecosystems in which various elements such as air, water, movement, plants, and animals work together to survive or perish. In organisations, such as schools or classrooms, systems consist of people, structures, and processes that work together to make an organisation "healthy" or "unhealthy".

Systems thinking has been defined as an approach to problem solving, by viewing "problems" as parts of an overall system, rather than reacting to specific part, outcomes or events. Systems thinking is not however one thing but a set of habits or practices[ within a framework that is based on the belief that the component parts of a system can best be understood in the context of relationships with each other and with other systems, rather than in isolation. This approach to systems thinking focuses on cyclical or repeating rather than linear cause and effect.

Defining Systems

The several ways to think of and define a system include:

  • A system is composed of parts;
  • All the parts of a system must be related (directly or indirectly), else there are really two or more distinct systems;
  • A system is encapsulated, has a boundary to make it distinct from other systems;
  • A system can be nested inside another system;
  • A system can overlap with another system both sharing parts;
  • A system receives input from, and sends output into, the wider environment; and
  • A system consists of processes that change inputs into outputs.

Bicycle Brake Example

An example of systems thinking would be understanding a problem with a bicycle not braking fast enough. Rather than trying to improve the brake by looking in great detail at the material composition of the brake pads (a reductionist approach), the boundary of the braking system may be extended to include the interactions between the:

  • brake pads; 
  • brake leavers;
  • cables;
  • cyclist reaction time;
  • tires;
  • road conditions;
  • weather conditions;
  • time of day; etc.

By considering the various systems involved, innovative solutions to the problem may emerge that may not have been thought of when considering just the aspect that is seemingly the most relevant.

Design Thinking

Design Thinking (or Solution Based Thinking) is a method for the practical, creative resolution of problems or opportunities that looks for an improved future result. It differs from the scientific method, which starts by defining all of the parameters of a problem in order to define the solution. Rather, the design way of problem solving starts with a solution in order to define enough of the parameters to optimise a path to the goal. The solution, then, is actually the starting point.

The teaching of Design Thinking involves the use of strategies for understanding design problems and opportunities, visualising and generating creative and innovative ideas, and analysing, synthesising and evaluating those ideas that best meet the criteria for success.

The terms analysis and synthesis come from (classical) Greek and mean literally "to loosen up" and "to put together" respectively. In general, analysis is defined as the procedure by which we break down a whole into parts or components. Synthesis is defined as the opposite procedure: to combine separate elements or components in order to form a coherent whole. However, analysis and synthesis, always go hand in hand; they complement one another. Every synthesis is built upon the results of a preceding analysis, and every analysis requires a subsequent synthesis in order to verify and correct its results. (Ritchey, 1991)

The analysis of problems can involve two similar but distinct processes: Decomposition and Deconstruction.


Involves separating a complex problem into parts to allow a problem to be more easily understood; and


Is the systematic dismantling process to identify and analyse the components that make up a product or service and their relationships.

Design Thinking Process

Design Thinking processes involve defining (identifying), researching (exploring), ideating (brainstorming), prototyping, choosing, implementing, and learning (Testing and Evaluation), to solve problems related to needs or opportunities that also consider social, cultural and environmental factors.

Define (Identify)

  • Decide what problem or opportunity to be accomplished, your objective;
  • Agree on who it is for (the client); and
  • Determine what will make the project successful.

Research (explore)

  • Review the history of the problem or opportunity; 
  • Collect examples of other attempts to solve the problem or develop the opportunity;
  • Talk to who it is for, and get their ideas for a solution; and


  • Identify what the client needs the solution to accomplish;
  • Generate as many ideas as possible to serve these identified needs;
  • Document or record your brainstorming session;
  • Do not judge or debate ideas; and
  • During brainstorming, have one conversation at a time.


  • Combine, expand, and refine ideas;
  • Create multiple drafts;
  • Seek feedback from a diverse group of people, include your client;
  • Present a selection of ideas to the client;
  • Reserve judgement and maintain neutrality; and
  • Create and present actual working prototype(s) if possible.


  • Review the objective of the project;
  • Set aside emotion and ownership of ideas;
  • Avoid consensus thinking;
  • Remember: the most practical solution isn't always the best; and
  • Select the powerful ideas.


  • Make task descriptions;
  • Plan tasks;
  • Determine resources;
  • Assign tasks;
  • Execute; and
  • Deliver to client.


  • Gather feedback from those who will use your solution;
  • Determine if the solution met the objective.
  • Discuss what could be improved;
  • Measure success; collect data; and
  • Document.

Attributes of Design Thinking

Wicked problems

Design thinking is a solution-based approach to solving problems, and is especially useful when addressing what design thinkers refer to as Wicked Problems. Wicked problems are wicked in the sense that they are ill-defined or tricky, not wicked in the sense of malicious. For ill-defined problems, both the problem and the solution are unknown at the outset of the problem-solving exercise. This is as opposed to "tame" or "well-defined" problems where the problem is clear, and the solution is available through some technical knowledge.

For wicked problems, the general thrust of the problem may be clear, however considerable time and effort is spent in order to clarify the requirements. A large part of the problem solving activity, then, consists of problem definition and problem shaping.

The A-Ha moment

The "A-Ha Moment" is the moment where there is suddenly a clear forward path. It is the point in the cycle where synthesis and divergent thinking, analysis and convergent thinking, and the nature of the problem all come together and an appropriate resolution has been captured. Prior to this point, the process seems nebulous, hazy and inexact. At this point, the path forward is so obvious that in retrospect it seems odd that it took so long to recognize it. After this point, the focus becomes more and more clear as the final product is constructed.

The A-Ha Moment is usually described as a gut feeling. As designers move from novice to expert in their field, the exact point where the A-Ha Moment occurs is increasingly recognisable. This happens through the practice of actual doing and the reflection upon their personal design process.

Resistance, fear and the devil's advocate

For Design Thinking, there are several factors who can stop the process. These enemies of Design Thinking are Fear, Resistance and the Devil's Advocate. They distract from design thinking by stopping creative processes through unconstructive negativity.


Fear keeps a designer from using their methods and process to achieve goals. Both are internal psychological hesitations that can distract the designer from creating or focusing on solutions by shifting the focus, instead, to doubts of self-worth, anxieties of "will it be good enough," or procrastinations.


Resistance can be encountered through internal psychological disruptions. Resistance stops design thinking by confusing the goal with all sorts of other things that need to be done first. Resistance shifts the focus from solutions and ways to get to those solutions to anything other than realisation.

Methods and Processes

Design methods and design process are often used interchangeably, but there is a difference between the two.

Design methods are all the techniques and ways of thinking when designing a solution. Some of these methods include looking at and understanding other designer's solutions, creating prototypes, mind-mapping, asking the five-whys to get to a crux of the problem, etc.

Design Processes are the way in which the methods come together through a series of actions, events or steps. There are many different design processes but they all have somewhat similar characteristics. The model developed by Koberg and Bagnall (1981) outlined 7 steps that can be completed cyclically or just one after the other (linearly).

The 7 Stages of the Universal Travel Model of the Creative Process:

  1. Accept Situation (or understand the problem);
  2. Analyse (the problem/situation);
  3. Define (restate the problem clearly by defining the goal);
  4. Ideate (to think of the possibilities, come up with options);
  5. Select (compare and decide upon the best option);
  6. Implement (creating a solution); and
  7. Evaluate (assess if the solution works and be improved).

The model developed by the Stanford University d School has five steps:

Stanford d School design process

  1. Empathise
  2. Define
  3. Ideate
  4. Prototype
  5. Test

These are addressed from three perspectives:

UNDERSTAND: Discovering insights via human engagement;

EXPERIMENT: Advancing your solution via prototyping; and

IDEATE: Generating ideas by reframing your challenge.

Bryan Lawson (1980) took the three fundamental design steps and argues that Analysis, Synthesis and Evaluation should be constantly developed in a three-step simplified triangular process in which:

Analysis is about understanding the “why” and “what” of a project; 

Synthesis is the part of the process where solutions are created and various design elements are pulled together into a working solution. Synthesis covers any area that deals with “how” things are done; and

Evaluation is where judgments are made concerning the analysis and synthesis. Evaluation of the analysis gives direction and prioritises requirements. Evaluation of synthesis exposes whether a proposed or completed solution is doing the job it is intended to do.

When a design process uses a combination of each of these three elements, its chances for success are greatly improved.

There are many other design process models (Dubberly, 2005) but the three fundamental steps of Analysis, Synthesis and Evaluation are fundamental to all approaches.

Futures Thinking

Futures Thinking or Futures Studies involves considering possible futures in order to increase the likelihood of a preferred future occurring. The Australian Curriculum: Technologies has the creation of preferred futures as the overarching idea for the learning area and teachers are expected to guide student learning at all levels towards predicting outcomes and considering the impacts of technological discussions for current and future generations and their environments.

Futures Thinking promotes the knowledge, skills and understanding that are needed in order to think more critically and creatively about the future. It:

  1. enables students to understand the links between their own lives in the present and those of others in the past and future; 
  2. increases understanding of the social, political and cultural influences which shape people’s perceptions of personal, local and global futures; 
  3. develops the skills, attitudes and values which encourage foresight and enable pupils to identify probable and preferable futures; 
  4. works towards achieving a more just and sustainable future in which the welfare of people and planet are both important.

In developing preferred futures, students should learn skills in:

1. Anticipating the future;

  • understanding the uses of hindsight;
  • understanding the need for foresight; and 
  • in a rapidly changing world. 

2. Accepting consequences;

  • for oneself, others and the environment; 
  • in the present/in this place; and
  • elsewhere in time and space.

3. Envisioning alternatives

  • considering a range of scenarios; 
  • personal, local and global; and
  • identifying preferable futures. 

4. Making wise choices; and 

  • choosing from alternatives;
  • weighing up benefits/consequences; and 
  • to make present best choices.

5. Taking responsible action.

  • in one’s personal life;
  • in the local community; and 
  • as a global citizen.

Thinking about the future can be considered in both spatial and temporal dimensions, both of which can be developmentally nurtured in students as they progress through studies in the Technologies learning area. Students should increasingly learn to consider those beyond their immediate self, family, friends, class, school, local, national and eventually global communities. Likewise they should develop an appreciation of needs and consequences beyond the immediate, gradually extending these consideration to future generations. 


Futurists such as Jacque Fresco with his vision of the future through design processes, Alvin Toffler and Ray Kurzweil, explore future possibilities.

Maker Movement

A maker subculture has recently emerged around design and technology DIY (do it yourself) experimentation and invention. Groups gather online and at Maker Faire's to share and explain their innovations. They are exploring electronics, robotics, 3-D printing, etc., as well as more traditional activities such as metalworking, woodworking, and traditional arts and crafts. The subculture stresses new and unique applications of technologies, and encourages invention and prototyping. There is a strong focus on using and learning practical skills and applying them creatively, with a culture of sharing and teaching new skills to others.


Much as occurred with artist colonies in previous generation, Hackerspaces and Makerspaces are being established where like-minded individuals gather to share ideas, tools, and skill sets. Hacking is redefined to including any re-conceptualising and repurposing of ideas and technologies to new, sometimes to mildly subversive, purposes. HSBNE in Brisbane was the first established in Australia and includes topics such as electronics, metal work, photography, blacksmithing, home brewing, sewing, bonsai, and glassblowing. There is also Techspace on the Gold Coast and hundreds of other Hackerspaces around the globe. Sometime groups gather for specific events such as Hackerthons and many libraries are becoming Hackerspaces.

Making in Schools

Schools and universities are establishing their own Hackerspaces and Maker groups to encourage students to experiment and develop skills in design and technology. Similar to computer and electronics clubs, these spaces provide the resources, collective expertise, and shared experiences and attitudes to foster a creative and innovative environment for student experimentation.

The Maker Education Initiative is promoting a Maker Corps to create more opportunities for young people to make, and, by making, build confidence, foster creativity, and spark interest in science, technology, engineering, math, the arts - and learning as a whole. The aim is for young people to join and eventually lead the growing Maker Movement, building community networks of families, leaders, educators, mentors, and organisations to nurture young makers. 

Kits and ideas are available from sites such as Make, Instructables, Exploratorium, Tinkering Studio, Young Makers, Sparkfun, Open Materials, Makezine and DIY

A guidebook is in development to help start a group. 


Project Based Learning

Project Based Learning (PBL) is different from Problem Based Learning which is a specialisation of Inquiry Learning that describes approaches to learning where students are presented with a scenario or problem and assisted by teachers, identify and research issues and questions to develop their knowledge or solutions. Through this process of problem solving, students learn both thinking strategies and about the domain of knowledge involved in the problem.

Project Based Learning however is the use of in-depth and rigorous projects to facilitate learning. PBL provides students with complex tasks based on challenging questions or problems that involve the students' problem solving, decision making, investigative skills, and reflection that includes teacher facilitation, but not direction. 

Project-based learning emphasises learning activities that are long-term, interdisciplinary and student-centered. Unlike traditional, teacher-led classroom activities, students often must organize their own work and manage their own time in a project-based class. Project-based instruction differs from traditional inquiry by its emphasis on students' collaborative or individual artifact construction to represent what is being learned.

The core idea of project-based learning is that real-world problems capture students' interest and provoke serious thinking as the students acquire and apply new knowledge in a problem-solving context. The teacher plays the role of facilitator, working with students to frame worthwhile questions, structuring meaningful tasks, coaching both knowledge development and social skills, and carefully assessing what students have learned from the experience. Typical projects present a problem to solve (What is the best way to reduce the pollution in the schoolyard pond?) or a phenomenon to investigate (What causes rain?).

PBL is focused on questions that drive students to encounter the central concepts and principles of a subject in a hands-on method. Students form their own investigation of a guiding question, allowing students to develop valuable research skills as students engage in design, problem solving, decision making, and investigative activities. Through Project-based learning, students learn from these experiences and apply them to the world outside their classroom. PBL emphasizes creative thinking skills by allowing students to find that there are many ways to solve a problem.

Comprehensive Project-based Learning:

  • is organized around an open-ended driving question or challenge;
  • creates a need to know essential content and skills;
  • requires inquiry to learn and/or create something new;
  • requires critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and various forms of communication, often known as "21st Century Skills";
  • allows some degree of student voice and choice;
  • incorporates feedback and revision; and
  • results in a publicly presented product or performance.

Design Challenges

A Design Challenge is a situation, problem or task that provides a meaningful context in which students can ‘work technologically’ to demonstrate learning outcomes in technology through project based learning. 

Design Challenges should involve 1. Students going through a design process, and 2. a challenge appropriate for their current capability.


Students should be given (or decide on their own) problem or opportunity for which to develop a solution. They should then use a Design Thinking Process. Younger students should use simplified models such as Design/Develop/Evaluate or Design/Make/Appraise, through models such as the Technology Practice model that has four stages of Investigation, Ideation, Production, Evaluation, then to more complex and specialised models for older students.

Whatever the model, the process of design should always be at least as highly valued in terms of student thought process and teacher assessment, as the final solution e.g.. product. This process is where the learning occurs, the problem and the solution simply provide the context for this learning.

Where ever practical, students should be given opportunities to include all stages of the design process in their projects but this has consequences:

  1. an evaluate stage requires projects to have solutions that can be evaluated and this invalidates many that involve model making or artistic works as these cannot be easily evaluated against measurable qualities; and
  2. to gain the full benefit of the design process, students should be given the opportunity to use the results of their evaluations at various stages to make changes, ideally going through the entire process several times in a cyclical process. This allows students see the benefit of evaluation to drive improvements, often taking a solution from one of many compromises because students are learning the processes involved and not fully appreciating what is possible, through to where several iterations (cycles) through the process can generate much more creative and effective solutions - analogous to the drafting process in writing.


Design Challenges should also be of sufficient challenge to individual students to be of benefit to their learning. Vyotsky (1935) developed the concept of a Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) in which in order to learn, students need to be challenged by something they cannot currently do, but not so difficult that they cannot at present attempt.

More recently, the concept of Flow has been used to set challenges that are of sufficient challenge to engage students but within their skill level so that students are not overly anxious. A state of flow can be then entered in which students become entire engrossed in an activity.

Design Brief

Design Briefs are concise statements clarifying the project task and defining the need or opportunity to be resolved after some analysis, investigation and research. It usually identifies the users (client), criteria for success, constraints, available resources, timeframe for the project, and may include possible consequences and impacts.


Many organisation sponsor design challenge competitions to encourage students in their study of various fields of learning and these can provide quality resources and motivation for student engagement in design challenges. 

Egg drop challenges are popular design challenges at all ages and involve developing a solution to prevent an uncooked egg from cracking when dropped from a set height. The height and available materials can be modified to make the activity challenging at different age levels.

Challenges can develop the full range of curriculum outcomes from the Technologies Learning area, including skills and concept development. 

Challenges often use recycled and low cost materials, but some challenges can include the use of 3D printers, model rockets, various foods, fibres, metals, woods, etc. and associated tools including ovens, lathes, sewing machines, CAD/CAM, etc.

Many competitions provide access to expensive tools. The F1 in Schools challenge for example provides wind tunneling and CAM machining tools to produce model drag racing cars and where schools cannot afford the equipment themselves, will link schools to schools, universities or companies that have the equipment.

Challenge Based Learning

Challenge Based Learning (CBL) was developed by Apple and focuses on increasing student engagement through a collaborative learning experience in which teachers and students work together to learn about compelling issues, propose solutions to real problems, and take action. The approach asks students to reflect on their learning and the impact of their actions, and publish their solutions to a worldwide audience. CBL has the following framework:

1. The Big Idea

Challenges start with the selection of a big idea — a broad topic that has importance to students and their community. Topics like democracy, the environment, or sustainability. Students research to define and better understand their big idea. Let’s use food as an example.

2. Essential Questions

Students explore their big idea by asking questions that reflect their individual interests and community’s needs. How does food impact our health? How do our diets impact the environment? What are the benefits of organic farming? 

3. The Challenge

From the essential questions a challenge is developed to guide students toward a real-world solution. Like, let’s improve what we eat. Students collaborate and communicate throughout the challenge and document the process.

4. Guiding Questions and Activities

To meet their challenge, students need to ask guiding questions. What exactly do we eat? What nutrients do we need? What foods can we grow locally? To find answers, teachers work with students to identify guiding activities they can do at school and in their community. Students can interview people about their diets  and analyze nutritional data.

5. Guiding Resources

Students take advantage of resources to help answer guiding questions and develop solutions. 

6. Solutions, Implementation, and Reflections

With their research complete, students choose one solution to develop. In this example, creating a school garden. To showcase their thinking, they can make presentations and videos to showcase their solution to help deepen their learning and enrich future projects.

Guides and Videos

Various guides and reports (CBL Classroom Guide, CBL An approach for our time, CBL Executive Summary, and NMC Report) explain CBL in more detail, including how to implement CBL in the classroom, and a range of video clips have been developed to example the use of CBL in different contexts.



Creativity is the process of producing something that is both original and worthwhile. Wallas (1926) presented one of the first models of the creative process where creative insights and illuminations may be explained by a process consisting of 5 stages:

  • preparation (preparatory work on a problem that focuses the individual's mind on the problem and explores the problem's dimensions),
  • incubation (where the problem is internalized into the unconscious mind and nothing appears externally to be happening),
  • intimation (the creative person gets a "feeling" that a solution is on its way),
  • illumination or insight (where the creative idea bursts forth from its preconscious processing into conscious awareness); and
  • verification (where the idea is consciously verified, elaborated, and then applied).

Creativity Techniques

There are three groups of creativity techniques:

  1. Aleatoricism introduces chance into the creative process;
  2. Improvisation encourages spontaneity and free thought; and
  3. problem solving has a wide range of tools and methodologies that can support creativity.

Problem solving creativity techniques include:

More general approaches in inspiring creativity include:

  • Linking (word association);
  • Black Box (inputs and outputs);
  • Parallels (past solutions);
  • Variation (focus on a single tool);
  • Additive Examples (combinations).

Schools are often criticized for not being environments that support creativity and free thinking, and establishing the trust and mindsets in teachers and students that support creative thinking can be challenging in institutionalised environments.


Innovation is the development of new solutions, products, services, and ways of doing.

Innovation is not just improvement but doing something different rather than doing the same thing better.

Through Technologies education, students develop the ability to be innovative, using their design thinking processes and creativity to develop novel innovations to solve problems and develop opportunities.

Subpages (1): D&T2 Activities