Razzouk, R., & Shute, V. (2012). What is design thinking and why is it important? Review of Educational Research82(3), 330-348.


The authors provide a thorough review and synthesis of existing literature on design thinking in 2012. 45 articles met the inclusion criteria using key search terms such as: design thinking, design cognition, design behavior, design studying, design reasoning, design process, thinking of design, visual thinking and prototyping. The major questions addressed in the article concentered on (1) characteristics of design thinking, (2) differences between a novice and expert design thinking, and (3) importance of design thinking. This article also aimed at applying literature findings of design thinking applications to educational systems. The authors operationalized design thinking construct in Design Thinking Competency Model that is useful for assessment and diagnostic purposes. The authors conclude by discussing the importance of design thinking in promoting students’ problem-solving skills.

Summary of Key Points

  • The nature of design thinking constitutes of content and process factors.
    • Process factors are (1) analytic that are more concerned with discovering and (2) synthetic that are connected with inventing
    • Content factors are (1) symbolic that include abstract world, institutions, policies, language tools, etc. and (2) real that include the real world, artifacts, and systems to manage the physical world.
    • Four quadrants exist that are integral in educational settings a) analytic/ symbolic, b) synthetic/ symbolic, c) analytic/real, d) synthetic/ real
  • Design thinking: Description, Characteristics, Process
    • Design thinking includes how designers consequently think. It is an iterative, interactive and non-linear project where designers are involved in several forms of thinking.
    • The characteristics of a design thinker include: human-and-environment- centered concern, ability to visualize, tendency towards multifunctionality, systemic vision, ability to use language as a tool, and affinity for teamwork. (Owen, 2007)
    • The design process is an ongoing process with sequential modifications that ensure fit between problem space and proposed design solution. It starts with abstract specifications and ends with description of the product with ongoing refining throughout the process.
  • Expertise (Experts vs Novice)
    • Expert designers solve complex problems more easily than novices (Cross, 2004). They create a matching solution to the problem.
    • Results of different studies reveal that novices used trial and error in design modification techniques and evaluation while experts used integrated design strategies.
    • Experts rely more on their experience and visual information while novices depended more on abstract reasoning.
    • Key features of design expertise are: generating, synthesizing, and evaluating a solution.
  • Design Thinking Competency Model
    • This model represents an operationalization of design thinking construct. It can be used as a framework for evaluating the degree to which students demonstrate particular design thinking skills. It is useful for both assessment and diagnostic purposes.
    • Students can learn design thinking skills with a) sufficient practice in effective environments, b) scaffolded support, c) formative feedback
    • Students will be ready to solve problems, think outside the box, and come up with innovative solutions.

Example Work

  • Stemple and Badke-Schaube’s (2002) model that is composed of the four elements (a) generation, b) exploration, c) comparison and d) selection was applied to understand designers’ thinking while working in teams. Results revealed that teams spent: 10% of time clarifying the goal and remaining 90% planning a solution.
  • McNeil, Gero, and Warren (1998) reported different results. Their results revealed that designers spent most of the time on analyzing the problem first, then designing a solution and the remaining time was spent on evaluation.

Discussion Questions

  • 1) How is design thinking defined and integrated in different fields?
  • 2) How do experts differ from novices in design process?
  • 3) What is the significance of implementing design thinking in educational contexts?

Additional Resources

Design Thinking for Educators https://designthinkingforeducators.com/design-thinking/





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