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Understanding "Design Thinking" In The Context Of Education

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Multidisciplinary and Liberal Education

Tagged Division

Liberal Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.1363.1 - 11.1363.8



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Paper Authors


Richard Fry Brigham Young University

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Richard Fry currently serves as the program chair in the Industrial Design Program in the School of Technology at Brigham Young University where he specializes in Product Design. Previous to entering the education field, he worked professionally in the areas of Appliance, Aerospace, Exhibit, and Home Fitness design. He received his MFA from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1994.

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Understanding “Design Thinking” in the Context of Education


In 2005, Roger Martin (now the Dean of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management) was quoted as saying, “In this turbulent, get-real economy, the advantage goes to those who can out imagine and out create their competitors”.1 “Imagine” and “Create” are very artistic words for a School of management Dean. In the increasingly competitive global environment, both business and engineering have become more interested in gaining a broader understanding of the principles of creativity in their search for more meaningful innovation. One of the more recent terms to describe this interest in Innovation is the term “design thinking”.

Creativity and design thinking are thought of as “right-brain” activities. However, engineering education has traditionally focused on more left-brained activities. There is a growing consensus surrounding the need to develop and understand more right-brain thought processes to complement the strong use of traditional left-brain processes as we look for ways to differentiate ourselves in the growing global economy of outsourcing and computer automation.

This paper will discuss the main characteristics of design thinking, contrast it to the characteristics of design thinkers, and provide recommendations for classroom environments that promote design thinking and help students become more proficient at it.

Difficulties of Creativity

When discussing issues dealing creativity, especially making judgments about who is creative and who isn’t, difficulties will necessarily arise. Creativity is a very broad topic. In addition, there are different directions that creativity can be applied – convergent and divergent.

Divergence can be defined by the ability to “generate many, or more complex or complicated, ideas from one idea or from simple ideas or triggers”.2 Convergence is defined as “the ability to use logical and evaluative thinking to critique and narrow ideas to ones best suited for given situations, or set criteria.” 3

For this paper, the word “Creative” is biased towards a more divergent process. It is the opinion of the author that art represents a reliance on a more divergent process, and engineering tradition represents reliance on a more focused or convergent process. Both processes can either be creative or destructive, depending on how they are used. The emergence of the term “design thinking” represents an attempt “to weave in and out of divergent and convergent thought patterns in arriving at an appropriate conclusion specific for a given situation.”4

Design Thinking

Because of the combination of creative artistic roots and practical applications, the traditional “Design” disciplines are of particular interest when speaking about cross disciplinary creativity. These disciplines have a long history of balancing divergent creative/artistic principles everyday

Fry, R. (2006, June), Understanding "Design Thinking" In The Context Of Education Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--585

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