Design Thinking: A Roadmap for Innovation in Teaching

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Porträt Mònica Feixas

Contribution by Mònica Feixas, Lecturer at ZHE, PH Zürich, and Professor at Universitat Autònoma Barcelona (UAB).

Sequel to Creativity in Teaching: Facts and Fancy

“Failure is success if we learn from it.”

(Malcolm Forbes)

What Is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is one of those terms du jour that get tossed around, while many people are not quite sure what they mean. In our understanding, design thinking is based on cognitive processes typically employed by designers. It is considered as a creative thinking process comprising several levels: analytical, creative, goal- and people-oriented thinking and working.

A design mindset is not problem-focused, it is solution focused. Design thinking explores possibilities of what could be, and creates desired outcomes that benefit the end user.

Failing for Success

Brown lists the following characteristics of a design thinker: empathy, integrative thinking, optimism, experimentalism, and collaboration. So, to include design thinking in innovation projects, we should run through five phases (see figure): Empathizing, defining, ideating, prototyping, testing.

5 processes of design thinking
Figure: 5 processes of design thinking
  1. With empathizing, the goal is not to emotionally invest but to objectively uncover and understand as many viewpoints as you can.
  2. The defining phase is about identifying user needs and institutional requirements. Knowing that you’re tackling the right problems while involving your customer early in the process is what is most valued here.
  3. Ideating means brainstorming as many ideas as possible and not judging them yet. While silly, absurd, bland, risky and utopian notions are generated, suddenly realizable and innovative ideas arise among them.
  4. A prototype is some type of model or sketch. It is a way to convey an idea quickly to test users.
  5. The goal of testing is learning what works or does not work for the users, and then iterate. Iterating means modifying the prototype based on feedback – until the user experience is satisfying.

Bottom line of this process: It is better to fail early and often as prototypes are created – and to learn from the failures until successfull models or prototypes are established. (See Institute of Design at Stanford for more information.)

Conference on Design Thinking in Zürich

In January 2017, a half-day conference on «Creativity in Learning – Revolutionizing Teaching through Design Thinking» will be held at PH Zürich. At this opportunity, Suzi Jarvis and Colman Farrell from the Innovation Academy, University College Dublin, will be our guests. We have asked them about their views on creativity and design thinking as well as how they are planning to approach the conference in Zürich. They answered from Malaysia with a short video (3 Minutes):

Suzi Jarvis and Colman Farrell on design thinking
Suzi Jarvis and Colman Farrell talk about design thinking and their lecture/workshops at the conference in January 2017


As part of the experiential lecture and workshops by Suzi Jarvis and Colman Farrell, we will be exposed on how to:

  • develop the mindsets, skillsets, and toolsets of designers, artists, and innovators.
  • learn to connect more deeply with students and other teachers to discover opportunities for innovation in learning.
  • break through barriers that have kept us stuck.
  • experiment with idea generation, critical thinking, aesthetic ways of knowing, problem-solving and rapid-prototyping.
  • foster a culture that enhances creativity and innovation.
Conference: Creativity and design thinking are the focus of our short conference (Kurztagung) «Creativity in Learning. Revolutionizing Teaching through Design Thinking». Our guests are Prof. Dr. Suzi Jarvis and Dr. Colman Farrell from the Innovation Academy, University College Dublin.

Date: Thursday, January 19th 2017, 13.30-17.30 at PH Zürich. For more informations and registration, see the conference page:

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