Teaching Design Thinking to Non-Designers


May 11, 2017
Students in DES 301 – Intro to Design Thinking work in groups to solve problems. Photo credit: Brooks Protzmann

By Brooks Protzmann, Lecturer in the Center for Integrated Design

I just completed my first semester teaching at the CID, and it was outstanding. As a professional designer who works at IBM, I’m used to working with people with backgrounds in design and Design Thinking. Despite being so new to the field, though, my students continually amazed me with their thinking and work over the course of the semester–which either says something about my teaching or the power of Design Thinking, and I’m thinking it’s the latter.

Design thinking isn’t a new methodology or approach, but it’s one that fortunately is becoming common outside of the design world and is being used by many organizations as a way to solve problems from a user’s/customer’s perspective. We started most evenings with a short lecture, followed by group activities. These activities helped get students out of their seats and work on concepts together, not to mention break up a long evening. Students learned how to divide problems into manageable parts and think about them from their users’ perspective.

Later, working in teams, they focused on a problem that was important to them and created solutions using the methods and tools they learned in class. I really was amazed with what they came up with and how professionally they presented their ideas.

While I know that I got a lot out of teaching the course, I think that my students got a lot out of it as well. One student told me that he taught his engineering classmates some of the methods he had learned in class and that they really helped them solve problems. Another student said, “This class is different from every other class I have taken at UT. You teach us to think and not just memorize things.” With feedback like that, I think we are on the right track!

I am looking forward to teaching a more advanced course on the topic next semester at IBM, where we will be digging into some real business problems and using the design methods learned in the previous class.

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