Make College Work for You


Design Thinking for College Success

Among the newest buzz words in the workplace and in education is “design-thinking.”  Many of the most successful and innovative companies use “design thinking” as essential to their success. Think of Google. Think of Intuit. Think of Pixar.

What is design thinking, and why is it important to college students?

Let’s start by thinking about your strengths in thinking and creating. Design thinking incorporates both of these abilities: design reflects the creative part and thinking reflects the logical part.








David Kelley, the founder of IDEO (a global design firm), explains that design thinking is “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate

  • the needs of people,
  • the possibilities of technology,
  • and the requirements for business success.”

What does this mean for a college student?

Your greatest successes in college will draw on BOTH sides of your brain. You want to maximize your creativity combined with logical realism. You want your thinking to be pragmatic—in other words, realistic and doable. You also want your thinking to be imaginatively creative—in other words, original through your distinctive perspective, experience, and approach.

Four Simple Steps for High Level “Design Thinking” in College

Here are four simple steps for high level “design thinking” that you can use for any class assignment, term paper or semester project, or an action to be taken in your internships, college clubs, or part-time/full-time jobs:

  1. Observe and Understand: take time to look closely at what needs to be done. This is a crucial step that most overlook. Whether this is a term paper, project, or activity, ask yourself these questions:
    1. What am I being asked to do?
    2. Why is this important to do [beyond the fact that it is required of you]?
    3. What will I gain from doing this very well? In other words, how will your life benefit substantially from what you do on the paper, project, or activity?
    4. How could this work benefit my future studies or work life?
  2. Ideate and Prototype: Now that you have a better idea of the deeper significance of what is to be done, you are to brainstorm at least three different options for your term paper, project, assignment, or applied activity. Write out or otherwise draft/sketch each option so that you can begin to view each more clearly.
  3. Observe and Understand: Do not begin to judge or evaluate each option yet. You want to ask yourself a few questions about each. This invites you to look at each option from several different perspectives:
    1. Empathy: What is the benefit of the option? Who will benefit from its completion? What larger benefit will you receive from carrying this option through to completion? Why might this option be important beyond the scope of the class or job assignment?
    2. Logic: How does this option relate to the larger aims of the class or your job? How will this option contribute to your successful completion of your major or minor field of study? In other words, how will this option benefit your learning and growth in your chosen field of study? How will this option contribute to your future performance in your chosen career? And how will this option benefit your future life and future community involvement?
    3. Realism: Is this option doable? Can you access and apply the necessary resources to accomplish this option? And will you be able to successfully complete this option in the specified timeframe?
  4. Test and Evaluate: This is where you review your responses to the above stages for each option and determine which option is the most beneficial, valuable, and doable for you to pursue.

By applying this exercise in “design thinking” for your assignments, term papers, semester projects, and club and job activities, you will maximize your effectiveness and develop your higher level “design thinking” abilities!



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