Literature Critique


Wordle of my work
Wordle of my work

Texts Critiqued:

Badke-Schaub, P., Roozenburg, N., & Cardoso, C. (2010). Design Thinking: A Paradigm On Its Way From Dilution To Meaninglessness. Design Thinking Resource Symposium 8: Interpreting Design Thinking (pp. 39 – 50). Sydney: Faculty of Design, Architecture & Building University Of Technology Sydney.

Brown, T. (2009). Change by Design How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation. New York: Harper Collins.

Burdick, A., & Willis, H. (2010). Digital Learning, Digital Scholarhip And Design Thinking. Design Thinking Resource Symposium 8: Interpreting Design Thinking (pp. 89-98). Sydney: University of Technology Sydney.

Grift, G., & Major, C. (2013). Teachers As Architects Of Learning: Twelve Considerations For Constructing A Successful Learning Experience. Moorabbin: Hawker Brownlow Education.

IDEO. (2012). Design Thinking For Educators 2nd Edition. Retrieved August 9, 2014, from Ideo:

Melles, G. (2010). Curriculum Design Thinking: A New Name For Old Ways Of Thinking And Practice? Interpreting Design Thinking, 299-308.

Surveying the literature constructed around design thinking, reveals few direct intersects between theories of design and theories of learning, particularly in designing real and virtual spaces for learning enrichment through best practice. Design thinking has evolved to augment innovation, intending to enhance life itself (Pilloton, 2009, p. 6). Consequently there have been numerous attempts to describe a formula which will enable such thinking, particularly for professionals, including teachers, who are not explicitly trained in design. The question is, how applicable is design thinking to education, and in what context?  Whether design thinking is part of design theory, or something different there has been little practical adoption within Australian schools.

The selected titles entail varied definitions for a mixture of design theory, process, thinking, pedagogy. They reveal a range of methodologies applied by design thinkers working in numerous fields, and educators approaching learning design from different perspectives. The literature enables engagement with the cognitive aspects of design, especially as applicable to innovative change. Theoretical structures underpin all titles, and deep thinking is unanimously viewed as important. The overall impression is piecemeal, leading to tensions, contradictions and discord, which hamper the adoption of design thinking as a practice. Confusion defining design theory compared to design thinking, potentially restricts the adoption of relevant aspects to non-design fields including education.

The first key tension arises from analysing the varying definitions and processes presented in the texts. Brown recommends diffusing design thinking through organisations by presenting a number of mental matrices outlining the flow of processes (Brown, 2009, pp. 62-86). He draws the path through the “feel” of the different and overlapping spaces he defines, showing the changes in levels of hope, confidence and insight as the process unfolds (Brown, 2009, p. 65). He then delineates the divergence and convergence of creating and making choices, in which the flow moves from a broad concept into a narrower concentration which leads to prototyping and solutions (Brown, 2009, p. 67).

In contrast, the model proposed by Hatchuel et al is constructed as a design square, where concepts and knowledge interact with each other. (Hatchuel, Le Masson, & Weil, 2004, pp. 1-4). They suggest two typical innovative contexts:  scientific and creative. Their design square appears to be all encompassing, whereas Brown acknowledges the need to revisit and reframe any or all parts of the process he outlines. Indeed, he notes that integrative thinkers (essential to this process) see non-linear and multidirectional relationships as a source of inspiration (Brown, 2009, p. 85).

The model presented by IDEO in their toolkit for educators has education as a specific focus. Their process is represented as sinuous and organic, with a broad starting point, a narrow waist, another bulge and a further narrowing indicating forward flow and narrowing of considerations leading towards a solution (IDEO, 2012, p. 15.). Brown is the chief executive officer and president of IDEO, and yet the process is not identical in both publications, causing further confusion.

Badke-Schaub et al, create more tension by questioning whether the design thinking paradigm has become diluted to the point of meaninglessness. They criticise Brown’s construct as prescriptive, idealistic and without empirical supporting evidence (Badke-Schaub, Roozenburg, & Cardoso, 2010, p. 41).  They challenge Brown’s methodology, stating that three issues need reconsideration: the roles of emotion and motivation; focus on teams of designers rather than individuals, and use of case studies and protocols as evidence of a successful design thinking pattern (Badke-Schaub, Roozenburg, & Cardoso, 2010, p. 47). Their own processes are multiple, and more complex than Brown’s.  A semantic approach is taken by Lindburg et al, who avoid this paradox by referring to working modes rather than process steps (Lindburgh, Gumieny, Jobst, & Meinel, 2010, p. 243).

The writings of Burdick and Willis, Melles and IDEO, all specifically apply design thinking concepts to education; these writings move from concepts towards educational practice. Burdick and Willis triangulate concepts: digital learning, digital scholarship and design thinking (Burdick & Willis, 2010, p. 90). These issues are pertinent to digital pedagogy, which must cater for strong visual communication skills, in addition to servicing generations accustomed to inductive discovery (Burdick & Willis, 2010, p. 90).  Interestingly, Melles questions whether any of the current design propositions actually improve or innovate curriculum design, or whether they are all semantics (Melles, 2010). He does concede however, that many aspects of visualisation co-design can lead to a better environment and thence to quality outcomes (Melles, 2010, p. 301).

The final title, by Grift and Major, builds on the work of renowned educators, and is focussed on centralising the students in intended curriculum design (Grift & Major, 2013). They raise the dichotomy between Marzano’s intended, implemented and attained curriculum and outline twelve considerations which they recommend as the basis for pedagogical design (Grift & Major, 2013, p. 12). Their strategies are based on three fundamental goals: successful student learning, the role of teachers’ mindfulness, and learning through action and reflection (Grift & Major, 2013, p. chp 1). Recent views of learning are presented as tabulated summaries and compared to optimal learning outcomes (Grift & Major, 2013, pp. 24-29). Their design provocations indicate loose relationship to the design theories and processes described by the other authors (Grift & Major, 2013, p. chp 15).

While definitions of design are important, they need to avoid oversimplifying the amazing richness of multiple perspectives; the conceptual framework needs to be fundamental enough to provide an anchor for the broad extant descriptions that abound (Dorst, 2010, p. 131). The most important consideration, therefore, is whether broad aspects of design as presented in this literature have been, or should be, adopted for education in terms of process, and spaces in order to improve learning outcomes. It is also important to ascertain and evaluate any examples of implementation.

Innovative teachers are skilled at applying appropriate concepts from almost anywhere to a lesson, a unit of work, redesigning their classroom (or library) space, or layout of a virtual space. They often work in collaborative teams, additionally making the best of time and budgetary constraints. One focus of modern teaching is aimed to empower the learners, and typically many teachers draw on esoteric sources to improve their practice. For example, a book focusing on products that empower people, may resonate (Pilloton, 2009). Teachable moments arise from than just the educational tools section (Pilloton, 2009, pp. 152-183). Individuals in almost all schools are able to apply concepts like this to innovate in their own lessons, but for adoption to be effective, a strong understanding of purpose is vital. Many teachers would consider the design thinking concepts and structures espoused by most of the selected authors as too esoteric. They are naturally confusing and complex, although they can also be exhilarating.  Conversely, the range of definitions and processes is positive for education as it leaves room to adapt and adopt, rather than needing to master a specific set of steps.

Educators consider deep thinking, as referred to by all selected texts, to be one of the most critical aspects of their work. There is a significant intersect between design thinking and teaching. Brown resonates with teachers planning a unit of work by outlining everything that is pertinent to a topic, then narrowing the focus to fit a range of criteria or constraints (Brown, 2009, p. flyleaf). Constraints include the age of students, the physical and virtual teaching spaces and time available. There is also some value in the design square, as educators work in both the scientific and creative realms  (Hatchuel, Le Masson, & Weil, 2004, pp. 1-4).  Referring to integrative thinkers and inspiration, Brown is applicable to the ebb and flow of curriculum design, innovating in teaching processes and considering learning spaces. Ideation is one area of overlap with the practice of teaching synthesis and evaluation, particularly relevant for History (Simkin, Designing Thinking Tasks, 2014).

Brown also refers to constraints, desirability, viability and feasibility (Brown, 2009, pp. 18-19), concepts familiar to educators, but the generalisations preclude large scale educational application.  Educators require concepts that specifically translate to classroom and or learning design because any discussion that falls outside the parameters of student learning is a distraction from the teacher’s core work (Grift & Major, 2013, p. 1). Teachers generally have many such “distractions” prohibiting them from conquering one process and then embedding it in practice.

From the plethora of new pedagogies, modern teachers increasingly aim to develop collaboration fluency, especially important in a century of ubiquitous digital tools (Crockett, Jukes, & Churches, 2011, pp. 69-78). The role of the group as accepted as more important than the individual. Consequently, unlike Badke et al, few teachers would argue with Brown in terms of this aspect of his design thinking construct (Badke-Schaub, Roozenburg, & Cardoso, 2010, p. 41).

Assessing practise through case study is also considered powerful by most educators. Brown’s requirement for nimbleness, reinforces a degree of inherent value in applying design thinking to education (Brown, 2009, pp. 16-18).  University research is definitely enhanced through knowledge networking and digital innovation, with collaboration improving learning (Simkin, Collaborative Ideation, 2014). Collaboration may also lead to additional research possibilities for learning improvement.

Design thinking is a useful basis for implementing a change in practice, or in applying innovation to education.  It has been introduced in varied formats by individual teachers to enable productive collaboration and brainstorming (Simkin, Designing Thinking Tasks, 2014). This works really well for subjects where a range of interpretations is vital. Brown’s rules: defer judgement, encourage wild ideas, and stay focussed encourage active participation by all. (Brown, 2009, p. 78).

Design specialists such as Brown are of lesser value for individual educators, schools and school systems by virtue of their focus on broad definitions of design processes. In evaluating and potentially adopting design thinking, educators therefore may consider Burdick and Willis, Melles and IDEO who specifically apply concepts to education. They are more likely however, to prefer resources such as Project Zero which look at thinking processes from a purely educational perspective (Harvard Graduate School Of Education, n.d.).

There is obvious discord within the design literature, broad educational theories and also between the literature under consideration and aspects of educational practice. Extrapolating the common themes indicates that applying broad design principles can benefit education. There are too many recent examples of significant expenditure intended to create major disruptive change for improving learning actually having the opposite effect due to no application of broad design thinking to the process.

Physical buildings usually begin with a design brief. Brown comments that a well-constructed design brief allows for serendipity, unpredictability and capricious whims of fate – all of which are familiar to teachers (Brown, 2009, p. 23). Many teachers are engaging in redesigning their physical learning spaces and measuring the impact of their actions on their students’ learning, utilising a range of techniques and learning beliefs (Simkin, Further changes To Our school Library, 2014). Some are working with a design brief of some sort, while others are brainstorming and prototyping. These examples are isolated in terms of one teacher, department or one school rather than pervasive in education.

Planning for a new or renovated building usually commences strategically, ensuring needs are on the grid for further development in the next master plan. Strategic design briefs are based on big ideas, and spell out the needs with a broad brush rather than in fine detail (Simkin, Submission To The Strategic Planning Architect For the Next Series Of Capital Planning, 2014). The number of people involved in this process depends on the nature of the school’s management team. Once the proposal becomes imminent, fine details will be discussed and a detailed brief prepared.

In many cases, this second design brief is actually created in isolation from the clientele. Finished buildings fall short of educational needs and practical inclusions: a bench designed for four computers has two power points; laptop storage spaces built into student lockers do not enable charging; an orchestra pit has no capacity to illuminate the music during a production. Need-finding often resides in executive only; classroom teachers, students and parents are not included in ideation processes. Excluding most of the stakeholders, omissions become the norm. Too many new buildings of recent time do not lead to improved educational outcomes. This occurred at a large scale with the Australian Building the Education Revolution (Karooz & Parker, 2010, p. chp. 9).  In stark contrast, The Works utilised a holistic approach to developing their future school, involving teachers, parents, the community and the architects in the planning (The Works At Walker) . Their process considered all wants and needs, leading to a unified report covering both physical and virtual spaces (The Works At Walker, pp. 7-28). Starting from their ethos and proceeding to what they therefore needed to provide, a coherent design brief, based on people and processes resulted. Their elaboration of the process reveals elements of both design theory and thinking applied as part of a four step theoretical framework (The Works At Walker, pp. 14-15). This appears to be a rare example of a multidisciplinary approach.

Another major consideration for education is tapping into the affordances of the digital age. This resonates with 21st Century Fluencies (Crockett, Jukes, & Churches, 2011), a crucial focus in many of today’s schools developing their 1:1 computing programs. This is another government initiative resulting in minimal pedagogical change and innovation in learning and teaching. At present there is a number of schools changing the device they want students to use, not because a better outcome can be achieved but because teachers have not embraced the power offered by the device currently supplied. The desired outcome of any device is not the starting point. Any device will fail with lack of professional learning opportunities and real support at a practical level.

New media educators prefer interpretive, rhetorical, networked, user oriented and solution focused learning design (Burdick & Willis, 2010, p. 91). In practice, despite devices being issued free to teachers by many schools, there has been little improvement to learning outcomes in the last ten years. Schools prepared to take risks such as Northern Beaches Christian School, home to the Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning are still too rare (SCIL Home, n.d). To hear a Principal speak passionately about encouraging his staff to take chances with their spaces and their concepts is most unusual.

Education is design dependent in terms of lesson and unit planning, attention to national curriculum, and learning space set up. This is where Grift’s work is inherently more valuable for most teachers (Grift & Major, 2013). Too many school managers engage teachers in constant acts of creative destruction – imposing the latest theory without embedding the concepts to ensure measurable improvement from adopting one new practice before introducing the next.  Grift is critical of the many major distractions within the profession; the focus should be specific to the intended outcome and implemented and embedded before moving to the next initiative (Grift & Major, 2013, p. 3). Well-designed professional learning activities, particularly if design thinking processes were applied in their construction. The work of The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership provides exemplars for pedagogical design throughout professional advancement and may foster improvement in adopting relevant aspects of design processes (Education Services Australia, 2014).

Whilst many schools are attempting to undertake some form of ideation process using post it notes, wonder walls and prototyping, very few have the physical space to donate a whole wall, let alone a room, to allow for shared reflection, refocus and reorganisation of concepts. The Stanford Design School has several floors of such space allowing it to be an ongoing prototype of the educational process itself (Brown, 2009, p. 224). The best that most schools can offer is a short term planning time (maybe a couple of days) for teachers to participate in such a process. There is also a great reluctance to include the entire teaching staff in such a process, let alone parents, students and community members (Simkin, What Is Your School’s Innovation Strategy?, 2014). This is a serious concern as “there is nothing more frustrating than coming up with the right answer to the wrong question” (Brown, 2009, p. 237). All design thinking literature supports the power gained by including strangers in the process. Strong educational leadership identifies who should be involved at any given point in the process.

So, there is a degree of concept transfer from the literature critiqued, but there is an unacceptably large gap between systems, schools and individuals that have applied such theories to demonstrably improve student learning outcomes, and those that function disconnected from educational research. New buildings have led to some changes, but in many settings teaching is very traditional, indicative of the absence of educational design thinking. Any new building or renovation should be planned backwards from the desired end point, a How Might We.. focus and involve all stakeholders at some point in the process (Method Card: How Might We Questions). Current educational research should also be incorporated in the preparation phase.

Access to the Internet has impacted some educators and some administrative practises, but many teachers are afraid of taking a step into virtual teaching spaces. Pre-service teacher training is also lacking as many graduates are not strong in their content methodology, and appear to have little practical exposure to digital technology for delivering lessons. More research is required into gains achieved by Australian virtual learning spaces. The resources being developed by The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership offer hope, describing and illustrating the standards expected from each level of experience, and consider professional learning as vital (Education Services Australia, 2014). This website should be utilised by every school to further all aspects of teaching. This site fulfils Grift and Major’s desire for teaching to be the focus.

Many older schools consist of spaces that were designed for the days when teachers did try to push knowledge and wisdom in one direction, when connection to wireless was unheard of, and there was little need to connect to electricity beyond lighting the space. Learning gains provided by spaces that foster curiosity, creativity and collaboration need to be further investigated. Improvements should lead to better teaching and learning, and preparing for renovation or renewal can only benefit from a degree of application of design thinking. The same applies to virtual learning spaces, which should be increasingly part of our pedagogy. The broad concepts presented by this literature can improve educational processes but the links need to be more clearly defined for specific academic application.


Badke-Schaub, P., Roozenburg, N., & Cardoso, C. (2010). Design Thinking: A Paradigm On Its Way From Dilution To Meaninglessness. Design Thinking Resource Symposium 8: Interpreting Design Thinking (pp. 39 – 50). Sydney: Faculty of Design, Architecture & Building University Of Technology Sydney.

Brown, T. (2009). Change by Design How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation. New York: Harper Collins.

Burdick, A., & Willis, H. (2010). Digital Learning, Digital Scholarhip And Design Thinking. Design Thinking Resource Symposium 8: Interpreting Design Thinking (pp. 89-98). Sydney: University of Technology Sydney.

Crockett, L., Jukes, I., & Churches, A. (2011). Literacy is Not Enough, 21st-Century Fluencies for the Digital Age. Corwin.

Dorst, K. (2010). The Nature Of Design Thinking. Design Thinking Resource Symposium 8: Interpreting Design Thinking (pp. 131 – 140). Sydney: Faculty of Design, Architecture And Building, University of Technology Sydney.

Education Services Australia. (2014). Professional Learning Support. Retrieved from The Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership:

Grift, G., & Major, C. (2013). Teachers As Architects Of Learning: Twelve Considerations For Constructing A Successful Learning Experience. Moorabbin: Hawker Brownlow Education.

Hatchuel, A., Le Masson, P., & Weil, B. (2004). C-K Theory in Practice: Lessons From Industrial Practice. International Design Conference – Design 2004, (pp. 1-13). Dubrovnik.

Harvard Graduate School Of Education. (n.d.). Project Zero. Retrieved August 31, 2014, from Harvard Graduate School Of Education:

IDEO. (2012). Design Thinking For Educators 2nd Edition. Retrieved August 9, 2014, from Ideo:

Karooz, C., & Parker, S. (2010). The Education Revolutionary Road: Paved With Good Intentions. In C. Aulich, & E. Mark, Australian Commonwealth Administration 2007 – 2010; The Rudd Government: (p. Chapter 9). Canberra: A.N.U Press.

Lindburgh, T., Gumieny, R., Jobst, G., & Meinel, C. (2010). Is There A Need For A Design Thinking Process? Design Thinking Resource Symposium 8: Interpreting Design Thinking (pp. 243 – 254). Sydney: Faculty of Design, Architecture And Building, University of Technology Sydney.

Melles, G. (2010). Curriculum Design Thinking: A New Name For Old Ways Of Thinking And Practice? Interpreting Design Thinking, 299-308.

Method Card: How Might We Questions. (n.d.). Retrieved August 12, 2014, from Design School Stanford:

Pilloton, E. (2009). Design Revolution:100 Products That Empower People. New York: Metropolis Books.

SCIL Home. (n.d). Retrieved August 29, 2014, from Sydney Centre For Innovative Learning – Lead The Change:

Simkin, M. (2014, August 15). Collaborative Ideation. Retrieved August 28, 2014, from Digitalli:

Simkin, M. (2014, August 13). Designing Thinking Tasks. Retrieved August 29, 2014, from Digitalli:

Simkin, M. (2014, July 30). Further changes To Our school Library. Retrieved August 27, 2014, from Digitalli:

Simkin, M. (2014, July 30). Submission To The Strategic Planning Architect For the Next Series Of Capital Planning. Retrieved August 26, 2014, from Digitalli:

Simkin, M. (2014, July 30). Using a Design Process to Effect a Change. Retrieved August 26, 2014, from Digitalli:

Simkin, M. (2014, August 29). What Is Your School’s Innovation Strategy? Retrieved from Digitalli:

The Works At Walker. (n.d.). Dear Architect: A Vision Of Our Future School. Retrieved July 25, 2014, from

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