Fall 2013

Introduction to Design Thinking

Course Overview

This course is run as a Socratic seminar, theorizing and evaluating design as a specialized way of thinking. Examining collaborative, cross-disciplinary innovation processes requiring skills for identifying & framing challenges and generating & optimizing solutions. Surveying essential processes and process skills to deploy design thinking for the development of creative solutions to complex systems level challenges.

Ideas explored in this course will be synthesized and evaluated throughout the MFA curriculum as ways of thinking to engage designing as an explicit collaborative and cross-disciplinary process for formulating problems or opportunities, formulating solutions and implementing solutions. 

The cross-disciplinary research activities are directed to leverage knowledge, resources and perspectives across the entire university and public communities. All investigations occur within a territory that advances the role of design thinking in business innovation, organizational leadership, public policy, social advocacy and direct democracy.


Herron School of Art and Design
Co-taugth with Pamela Napier



Course Number

HER-V 501

Credits + Contact

1.5 Credits / M 3:30-6:00

Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of this course, students will be

able to:

  • Identify, analyze, synthesize and evaluate knowledge and theories describing the essential competencies of design thinking and design processes.
  • Analyze creative problem solving process knowledge, process skills and process roles to essential challenges in an effort to provide relevant solutions to the real underlying problems that people encounter. 
  • Analyze appropriate design research methods for formulating problems / opportunities, formulating solutions and implementing solutions. 
  • Communicate effectively in visual, written and oral presentations and demonstrate the ability to analyze and evaluate visual, written and oral presentations of others.

Course content

Competencies of Design Thinking and Design Processes

  • ability to understand the context or circumstances of a problem and frame them in insightful ways that are people-centered/empathetic
  • ability to work at a level of abstraction appropriate to the situation at hand
  • ability to model and visualize solutions even with imperfect information
  • ability to conduct an approach to problem solving that involves the simultaneous creation and evaluation of multiple alternatives
  • ability to add or maintain value as pieces are integrated into a whole
  • ability to establish purposeful relationships among elements of a solution and its context
  • ability to use form to embody ideas and to communicate their value

Creative Problem Solving Process KNOWLEDGE about

  • finding problems
  • finding facts
  • defining problems
  • finding ideas
  • evaluating & selecting ideas
  • planning implementation
  • gaining acceptance for plans
  • implementing plans

Creative Problem Solving Process SKILLS for

  • conducting divergent thinking
  • deferring judgement
  • conducting convergent thinking
  • meeting in teams
  • working in teams

Creative Problem Solving Process ROLES for

  • generating possibilities
  • conceptualizing ideas
  • optimizing solutions
  • implementing plans

Course documents

Course syllabus (PDF) 

Required Readings

A few of the selected readings from this course are listed below. A full bibliography for this course can be found here (23 items).

Brown, Tim. Design Thinking. (2008)

Bloom, Paul. The Baby in the well: The case against empathy. (2013)

Cross, Nigel. Designerly ways of knowing. (1982)

 Kolko, John. Abductive Thinking and Sensemaking: The Drivers of Design Synthesis. (2010) 

Rotman on Design: The Best on Design Thinking from Rotman Magazine
University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division