Skip to Main Content

How design thinking is empowering tomorrow’s problem solvers

It’s an increasingly in-demand skill, but what exactly is design thinking and why does it matter?

NEWS 28 July 2023

It’s often said the careers that the current generation of students will end up following don’t yet exist. With that uncertainty in mind, how can schools prepare young people for a successful and productive working life?

The World Economic Forum has said that five years from now, around 35 per cent of skills considered important in today’s workforce will have changed. So, what kinds of skills do today’s generation of students need to so they can be adaptable in a rapidly evolving workplace?

One skill that is gaining prominence in schools and universities is design thinking. Leading international corporations and institutions such as Apple, Google, Samsung, Harvard University and Imperial College London are all embracing design thinking, but what is it?

Defining design thinking

“Design thinking is a process of starting with an initial idea or problem and working your way through to a final product or solution,” explains Rachelle Rae, Head of Visual Arts at Haileybury.

“It’s learning how to expand your thinking to take on broad viewpoints and different people’s needs. It involves looking at different contexts and impacts, evaluating what is needed and what is viable, and thinking outside the box.”

“It begins with identifying a specific challenge and encourages people to brainstorm ideas, share and understand perspectives and build on that to create a workable solution. It is all about encouraging people to think creatively and critically, to keep learning and to try new ideas”
Rachelle Rae, Head of Visual Arts

Why it matters

At Haileybury, an example of design thinking in practice involves Product Design and Technology students designing a lamp. As part of the end-to-end process, they investigate existing designs, functionality and materials and explore how they can do things differently.

As well as thinking creatively, students are encouraged to consider their project from a sustainability perspective – so they might incorporate materials that would otherwise be thrown away or create a design with dual functionality - that allows a reading lamp to also create mood lighting in a room, for example.

As students navigate this process, they do so in a safe and supportive space where they can ‘fail’ while voicing their ideas, tackling a problem and learning through that experience.

“You don’t have to be an architect, an artist or an interior designer to apply design thinking—anyone can benefit from going on this journey,” says Rachelle.

“Design thinking teaches students how to evaluate, critique and receive feedback. As they pursue a particular idea or avenue, it teaches them to understand more and communicate their ideas to different audiences.”

Navigating the design thinking journey also requires resilience, patience and a willingness to learn from mistakes and to try again and improve.

“Today’s young generations are used to consuming short bursts of content, like TikTok. They are used to instant gratification and getting things over and done with quickly. Design thinking teaches students about project management, organisation and going on a longer learning journey and while that can be challenging, it brings huge personal development,” says Rachelle.

Derek Scott, Haileybury CEO|Principal, says while design thinking as a term is currently gaining greater recognition, the key elements of the process, such as critical thinking, creativity, imagination, problem-solving and a human-centred focus, have been used in the art and design world and in education more broadly for a long time.

“These elements have always been at the heart of leadership and education and they are becoming even more important with the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI), because AI doesn’t bring these things to the table,” Derek says.

“In education, alongside developing the core skills like numeracy, literacy and science, we need to look at how we can add programs into school curriculums that allow students to design, create, imagine, solve a problem, fail, analyse and try again, so students develop the skills that prepare them for life after school”
Derek Scott, CEO | Principal

Following on from this, design thinking also helps students acknowledge their ability to have ideas that are valuable, which Rachelle describes as a ‘caterpillar to butterfly moment’.

“When their ideas are realised, young people have huge pride in themselves because they’ve put something out in the world that their peers and community can interact with, talk about and value. Being a teacher and witnessing that is a huge privilege,” says Rachelle.

Another recent example of design thinking in action in the Visual Communication Design classroom is an activity that sees students design juice labels. Students study target consumers, define specific problems linked to labelling and then come up with creative label ideas.

After making prototypes of those designs, they get feedback from potential consumers, learn from mistakes, reflect on the feedback they receive and collaborate to find the next solution. These skills are all part of the valuable design thinking process and will become a vital part of enabling young people to find their place in a future workforce.