Design Thinking is a way of looking at the challenges you face. It is a mindset. David Kelley of IDEO refers to it as a set of strategies or “buckets” to draw from. When we see someone have what we might call a sudden flash of inspiration, what has more likely happened is that a great deal of convergent and divergent thought, observation, and trail-and-error has gone on before. Such strategies as observing participants, building and testing prototypes, and interviewing experts are important tools in the Design Thinker's toolbox.
In Dr. L. Todd Rose's TEDx (Sonoma County) Talk on “The Myth of Average”, he discusses the fallacy behind designing for “the average person”, using the example of US Air Force fighters and fighter pilots in 1952. Blaming the pilots, the planes, or even the flight instructors, did not do anything to truly address the problem. Watch the video (at least the first six minutes of it) to learn what was the key to solving the problem.
Jonah Lehrer tells a story at the beginning of his book, “Imagine: How Creativity Works,” (Yes, I know the book was eventually pulled from shelves due to Lehrer's fabrications and plagiarism in parts of the book. The opening story I refer to here, however, remains true) about the origins of the Swiffer. Procter & Gamble was trying to develop a new and improved soap for mopping floors. After many attempts by chemists to come up with a new formula for the soap itself, P&G asked a group of “design thinkers” to work on the problem. They approached the problem from a different perspective than the chemists, and the result was the invention of the Swiffer! NPR's Fresh Air story, podcast, and transcript. (I have created an excerpt of this portion of the transcript.)
So, Design Thinking is a set of ways to approach the challenges we face. In education, we face the challenge of educating a highly diverse group of students. Just like the fighter jet cockpit, a “one size fits all” solution ends up working well for nobody. Just like the mop, a new perspective to approach the issue can result in new ways of thinking about the solutions we can employ.