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Summary and Takeaways

This chapter showed the trajectory of design-centric and design thinking influences in our field’s scholarship. The chapter provided a quick overview of design thinking’s history and described the key phases that make up the problem-solving methodology and mindset. In addition, it demonstrated the relationship between design thinking and user-centered design. The introduction to “making” as an active design and problem-solving strategy showed its potential to address our current technical communication pedagogical needs and its overlaps with the design thinking framework. Key takeaways from this introduction chapter are:

  • • Increased attention to multimodality in writing studies contributed to the turn to design as an integrated (process + product) approach to teaching and learning.
  • • Design thinking is an amalgamation of practices informed by multiple disciplines, with a noticeable origin from design science and the Scandinavian co-design models in the 1950s and 1960s.
  • • Design thinking supports iterative and user-centered design, core principles in technical communication.
  • • Making is a recent popularized educational activity. Powered by design thinking, making can address the material and multimodal issues facing technical communication pedagogy.

Learning Activity: A Design Thinking Orientation

A rather quick exercise (about 50 minutes) to understand the design thinking mindset and methodology is through a rapid orientation that I love conducting at the start of a new class. The preparation for this exercise is minimal: The facilitator (instructor, trainer) just needs to provide some readily available crafting materials like the following, or anything they might find from a recycling bin:

  • • Adhesives: glue sticks, tapes, stickers
  • • Cutting tools: scissors, pen knives
  • • Canvas: scrap papers, color papers, card boards, paper boxes
  • • Drawing utensils: color pens, crayons, chalks
  • • Random items: ribbons, sticky note pads, popsicle sticks, tissue boxes

First, put your participants (in my case, students) into pairs, preferably with someone they haven’t known too well. Then, have them spend just about 1 minute introducing themselves to each other. The next step is to announce the goal of the orientation. One that I like to use is called “Reinventing the Classroom Experience” because it is usually comprehensible by my students.

In their pairs, Student A will spend 3 minutes interviewing Student В about their everyday classroom experience. This should be an open inquiry without specific focus on an aspect of the classroom. The interviewer should focus on listening and not notetaking. Once the time is up, the interviewer has 45 seconds to jot down the main takeaway from the interview. Then, vice versa, Student В interviews Student A, and writes down their takeaways. This segment of the activity represents the empathy mode of design thinking.

The next step is to define the problem. Both students spend 2 minutes to write a point-of-view (POV) statement using the following structure:

_(name of interviewee)_needs

_(required service, things, spaces, etc. that’s currently missing)_

in order to_(achieve desired goals)_.

An example would be:

Student A needs

a movable, wireless charging port

in order to keep her laptop charged during class.

At this time, the partners will exchange the POV statements and ask for feedback. Changes can be made during this exchange to create a more accurate statement. I also ask students to observe their classroom setting (and beyond, thinking about the campus in general), and to pay attention to ways we interact with objects and spaces.

Now, enter the ideation phase. Using the POV statement and observation of classroom spaces, students were asked then to generate at least 5 radical solutions to meet their partner’s needs. They are given only 8 minutes to do so. To throw in an incentive, I give a small prize (bag of candies) to an individual who came up with the most ideas within the time frame.

Once the time is up, students would take turns to share their radical ideas with their partner, and spend a few minutes selecting one “big idea” to refine on paper and use it for the next part of the activity—prototype. Using the materials I supplied, students then spend the next 8-10 minutes building a model for their “big idea.” They are encouraged to build their model as close to their ideas as possible.

When done, students presented their prototyped solutions to their partner. They were asked to focus on what worked, what needed to be improved, and to take questions from their partner. This is meant to simulate the testing mode. If time permits, I would let students iterate their prototype based on the feedback they received from their partner.

That is the end of this orientation activity. Students may keep their prototype if desired. In the next class period, I usually ask them to reflect on the following questions as a segue into discussions of user-centered design:

  • • How is design thinking similar or different from “traditional” research processes?
  • • How did you approach your partner’s problem(s)?
  • • How did you come up with your “radical” solutions?
  • • What does your partner think about your solution?
  • • How did you modify your solution based on your partner’s feedback?
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