Initial thoughts on design thinking

What’s this Design thinking thing?

I am about to embark on my next subject as part of a Masters of Information and Communication Technology in Education degree. The subject is called ‘Designing Spaces for Learning’ with Ewan McIntosh and I am confident that it will be the subject that in my whole degree is most out of my comfort zone! This is one of the reasons I chose it as I believe this is where you learn the most. As a Science teacher with a Masters’ Degree in Astronomy I know I am going to have to relearn and re-envisage some of my thinking processes; I already have.

design-thinking-map  (Ryshke, 2015)

I had never thought about, let alone heard of Design Thinking before preparing for this subject. What’s this design thinking thing? I thought! One of the readings that particularly impacted me was “Wicked Problems in Design Thinking” by Richard Buchanan.

I am confident as I blog my thinking as part of this subject there will be aspects of my thinking that are ill-formulated and will need re-iteration and because of this I have set up this blog to be public and automatically submit links to social media such as ‘Google+’, ‘twitter’, and ‘LinkedIn’. This is so I may get feedback and hopefully constructive criticism on the development of my ideas in order for them to be improved.

Science versus Design Thinking

I am a specialist in the more Mathematical end of Science, being Physics, where the Scientific Method can be followed in a linear fashion resulting in definite answers. However Design Thinking routinely deals with ‘Wicked Problems’ that do not have definite answers and where working through requires non-linear thinking (Buchanan, 1992). It is interesting to note that the term ‘Wicked Problems’ was borrowed from Science philosopher Karl Popper by Mathematician and Designer, Horst Rittel (Buchanan, 1992). Popper had a background in Physics, Mathematics and Philosophy, among other things. Although Buchanan, amongst others, draws a dichotomy between the linear thinking of the Scientific Method and non-linear thinking of Design Thinking, the practise of real scientists thinking is not simply linear. From a ‘Physics’ perspective it is true that Newtonian Mechanics had a foundation of determinism with underlying definite conditions however Modern Physics is more indeterminate in nature where, for example, the exact location and momentum of an orbital electron can never be known.

UncertaintyPrinciple(Gingko Blog, 2013)

The image above: If the present position is clear, the future direction is unclear (left image); If the future direction is clear the present direction is unclear (right image).

This ‘fuzzy’ nature of nature in modern physics to me has a nice symmetry with the concept of Design Thinking being “indeterminate” and “Wicked” (Buchanan, 1992). When scientists are trying to solve a problem they may well use the Scientific Method however to say that it is only this linear way of thinking that they use is to oversimplify the practice of Science.


Hexagonal thinking

One method of thinking that has impacted me and that I intend to use with both students in my Science classes as well as colleagues that I am looking to workshop with in the use of GAFE is hexagonal thinking. This is a great tool to use to link ideas, concepts, and facts together that have complex interrelationships, pioneered by Arie de Geus. De Geus (McIntosh, 2015). Once I use this technique I will post photos of the process as I think it will have excellent applications in the teaching if High School Science where groups can have a very concrete visible representation of Scientific concepts and how different groups can have different representations of exactly the same subject matter. Below is an image of students from Elisabeth Hale’s class in Brisbane, Australia.

hexagonal thinking

(Hale, 2015)

This method is a great way to get students to learn more independently rather than being disengaged from learning with a teacher centred approach (McIntosh 2015). At the same time this approach also makes learning visible which is vital in order for learning to improve among the students, teachers, and school leaders (Hattie, 2015).

I welcome any comment and constructive criticism upon reading this blog as this is part of making learning visible so I can improve my learning in order for me to help my students and colleagues improve their learning.


Buchanan, R. (1992). Wicked Problems in Design Thinking. Design Issues, 8(2), p.5.

Gingko Blog, (2013). The Uncertainty Principle of Vision. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Jul. 2015].

Hale, E. (2015). Google+. [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 Jul. 2015].

Mcintosh, Ewan. How to Come up with Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen. Amazon Kindle version: Notosh, 2015.

Ryshke, R. (2015). Center for Teaching. [online] Center for Teaching. Available at: [Accessed 12 Jul. 2015].



3 thoughts on “Initial thoughts on design thinking

  1. says:

    Rows increase time for students to get to desks lengthening settling time and also makes it harder for teacher to get around class room

    Have you been able to (or even considered) tracking the amount of time saved due to the configuration? I wonder if it ends up being a wash if you are faced with more “disruptive” students who take advantage of the group formation…

    • says:


      Thanks for the reply; I think your comment was meant for the second post on ‘Changing a learning space’ rather than this one.

      I have not tracked the amount of time saved but it is clearly much more efficient to move around the room in the group configuration over the row configuration. The difficulty for me is that I have 5 different classes and what suits one may not suit another; time will tell.

      For any disruptive students I do have a couple of desks on their own where they could be put in ‘time out’ if needed – I rarely do this though.

      I believe that changing the physical space the way that I have should result in a change in pedagogical practice that maximises the nature of the physical space. The previous physical setting favoured ‘lecture’ over group work while the new setting favours group work over ‘lecture’.

      Your question about time saved in mobility versus student behaviour is one that I will consider when observing the results of this change.

      I am sure this first iteration will change a number of times. Perhaps it could end up being a hybrid of say a mix of group settings of four and two, some rows of 3 or 4, and some tables on their own…..

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