Design Thinking in Education Series

Episode 4 – Design Thinking and Scientific Education

In this episode I talk to Annebeth Simonsz an educational advisor at humanities. Previously she was involved in the pre-university college “urban design lab” where high school students tackled a societal problem with design thinking. We discussed the importance of training creativity and how design thinking is similar to the scientific process. In this article, I dive deeper in the comparison between design thinking and the scientific method.

Should we use design thinking in a scientific context? In this article you will learn about the differences and similarities between the two and discover that design thinking is not a replacement of the scientific process but a valuable addition to it.

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Design thinking and scientific education

Design thinking is a human-centred approach in which intangible things such as emotion and visual design play a key role. This is less important in the scientific process which focuses on tangible, objective and measurable results.

Design thinking starts with a problem, it tests assumptions about the solution to the problem and creates innovative solutions to things that do not exist yet.

Scientific education starts with a question, it tests hypotheses and looks at what is already exists in the world. You could say that design thinking images the future and the scientific process examines the past (or observable).

Looking at the steps of design thinking and the scientific process there are a few similarities and differences

Empathy vs Question

Researchers start by asking questions and following their curiosity. Designers start by empathising with the people they are designing for. They use their curiosity to step into the shoes of others so they can identify with what it is to experience this problem.

Define vs Research

When scientists have formulated a question, they start to research how others have answered this question and how they can add to gaps in the knowledge around the topic.

After designers have empathised with their users, they will start to define the problem more clearly, so they are solving the right problem. This problem might be quite different to what you started with. In this phase, designers also record what requirements are needed in the solution.

Ideate vs Hypothesis

Designers brainstorm different solutions to the problem and choose the solution they think is best to start building in as a prototype.

Scientists in this phase will formulate hypothesis around their research question. These hypotheses will be tested during the experiment.

Prototype vs Experiment

The goal of the prototype is to gather data on whether the solution is really solving the problem.

The difference in this phase is that there is usually one experiment in a research project, in the design process there will almost always be multiple prototypes.

Test vs Analyse

During the test phase in design thinking the data is gathered and interpreted. This is like the analysis phase in research where you interpret the results of your experiment.

As mentioned before, design thinking is an iterative process. Within one design project designers go back and forth between the phases. Even though the scientific process is mostly displayed as a linear process, scientists will tell you that it is an iterative process.

In the video below, the engineering design process is compared to the scientific method. It illustrates how both methods can start at the same point create different outputs but in the end work towards similar goals. Which should you choose? The scientific method or design thinking…

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Share your experiences

Are you experimenting with design thinking and do you want to share your story? Do you want to start experimenting and need help getting started? 

Please contact d.bosch@sea.leidenuniv.nl