Can Design Thinking help you write better course assignments and finish them quicker?

The looming sense of anxiety passes through me when I think of a course assignment that needs to be written. I have never seen myself as much of a writer and have always struggled to match the needed quota of words. Could Design Thinking help in finding a better way to approach course assignments so that they would not be as stressful and onerous?

The focus of a course assignment is to understand the studied topic better, to learn new things and familiarise oneself with the topic at hand. Also, one consistent characteristic of an assignment is they have a deadline the writer should honor. Since Design Thinking projects are time-constrained and it is specifically that restriction that enables the ideas to flourish in actual world and the project member to sustain a high level of creative energy (Brown 2009: 21), could one adapt the process of design thinking to a writing task to make it more constructed and not prone to its usual pitfalls, such as delays and procrastinating?

Mindshake’s Evolution 6²

Mindshake’s Innovation and Design Thinking Model Evolution.6² is a model developed by Katja Tschimmel (2018). The model introduces Design Thinking process in a practical way by combining it with a selection of DT tools. The tools encompass the diverging (<—>) and converging (>—<) nature of a DT process and aid the design thinker to keep their course throughout the process.

Evolution 6² Design Thinking Model

Are Evolution 6² tools helpful when writing course assignments?

Generally, Design Thinking projects can be divided into three overlapping phases of inspiration, ideation and implementation (Brown 2009: 16). In Evolution 6², the DT process is divided into six phases:

  1. Emergence (E1)
  2. Empathy (E2)
  3. Experimentation (E3)
  4. Elaboration (E4)
  5. Exposition (E5)
  6. Extension (E6)

For a short writing assignment, such as this blog post, going through all the parts of the E.6² might be rather excessive. For a more complex piece of work, like a Master’s thesis, the method would be more suitable, since thesis writing process in itself requires the writer to validate a certain research question and the process through which it will be examined.

Out of the tools found in E.6², the easiest choices for the inspiration phase (equivalent to E1 and E2) that provides for the topic of the assignment would be opportunity mind map (<—>) and intent statement (>—<). Even though E.6² provides printable templates for the tools, often one can substitute a larger A3 template for a simple postcard-sized sticky note that outlines for example the intent statement for a short assignment.

For a writing assignment, the ideation phase (equivalent to E3 and E4) presents as a rather straightforward one: in order to finish the first version, one must write. Of course depending on the time available for completing the assignment, one could write short pieces of text (<—>) and then choose out of those the one that seems to work out the best (>—<). However, if faced with time-constraints, it is unlikely that writer produced multiple different pieces and instead, would focus on iterating versions of the text at hand.

To jumpstart the, at least for me dreadful, writing process, I chose to try out a tool called The Most Dangerous Writing App that I found out about after reading a blog post by writing teacher Kimmo Svinhufvud (in Finnish). The idea of the app is to force the user to write at least something for a set amount of time, since the moment the user stops typing, the text starts to blur, and after 5 seconds completely disappear. For the purpose of testing the tool in writing of this blog post, I chose a 5-minute timer. While the moments of fumbling with words that caused the text to start to blur induced some moderate feelings of panic and strings of lkjsdhfglksdjfhlgkj in between more understandable sentences, I was able to produce text worth of 169 words in the set time of 5 minutes. Although not usable without editing, the amount of text produced in such a short time accompanied by the easiness of continuing to write after the first words spelled out was eye-opening.

For short written assignments, the implementation phase (equivalent to E5 and E6) seems a little bit out of place: oftentimes the only audience of a written assignment, besides the writer, is the instructor or lecturer reviewing the said work. Should the assignment be presented in a presentation format, the visualisation tools (>—<) in E5 can be helpful. If the course implemented feedback from other students through a peer-review, one could fill out the feedback map (>—<) with the received comments and improve the work further. This could be especially helpful in a longer project, such as in thesis work.

But design thinking is a collaborative process!

Since written course assignments are often a fundamentally personal endeavour and, unlike standard design thinking projects, not produced in teams, one can question whether it is feasible to apply a design thinking model to course assignments that do not include group work. Still, the course assignment process could be started in class by first brainstorming in private and then discussing ideas with one’s classmates to provide feedback. After that, the assignment itself could be finished at home so that it would accurately demonstrate each student’s personal and unique understanding of the topic and author’s academic capabilities.

Written by Suvi Valsta

References:

Brown, T. 2009. Change by Design. Harper Business.
Tschimmel, K. (2012). Design Thinking as an effective Toolkit for Innovation. In: Proceedings of the XXIII ISPIM Conference: Action for Innovation: Innovating from Experience. Barcelona.
Tschimmel, K. 2018. Evolution 6² Toolkit: An E-handbook for Practical Design Thinking for Innovation. Mindshake.
Tschimmel, K. 2019. Design Thinking course lectures, September 6–7 2019. Laurea University of Applied Sciences. Espoo, Finland.

Links:

Mindshake: Evolution 6² Official Website

One thought on “Can Design Thinking help you write better course assignments and finish them quicker?

  1. Thank you, Suvi for a very relevant and timely topic for us novice SID students! I was actually wondering the same question when Katja suggested it in the class. I even did do some kind of a mind map for my own blog text, but the result was an overflow of ideas for about 500 words. And continuing from that to the next phases to narrow it down, I just found it way too time-consuming for this assaignment as you mentioned too. An intent statement, built according a blog structure might have helped though.
    My biggest problem is the quest for perfection that is ususally very far from the end result. I remember also Katja saying that perfection is the enemy of creativity. So I think I’ll have to try the app you mentioned, it seems like a very effectice challenge! And finally, your last remark about design thinking being a collaborative process – oh yes! I was even thinking earlier that it might be feasible to make the thesis work a group effort, that way the learnings would truly be put into practice.

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