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Design thinking: solving complex problems is about to become child’s play


Design thinking: solving complex problems is about to become child’s play


Katja Forbes says school curriculums need to change to suit today’s climate and prepare children for the jobs of the future.

KatjaForbes_Headshots004At the global EduTECH symposium held in Sydney recently, every second stand had prototyping kits, design thinking methods and ways to encourage kids to think creatively and solve problems.

It is expected that design thinking and its components will fit into the current national school curriculum as part of the design and technologies stream, although there are several early adopters in the private system already explicitly teaching these techniques. Curriculum content is supported by thought leaders like myself and other experienced colleagues of mine.

Children will learn principles that are relevant to their age. For example, they’ll uncover a problem and are guided through steps to invent a creative solution – effectively the full cycle of the design thinking process – that includes interviewing, observing, reflecting on feedback, sketching and ultimately developing a prototype to test.

For the second time as part of Sydney’s Vivid Ideas festival, an annual school holiday workshop on future making took place at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

It attracted around 60 parents and children and was deemed an enormous success. The purpose of the workshop was to provide a demonstration of how design thinking and its components will fit into the national school curriculum. The kids who participated mentioned the workshop offered a new way of thinking in an interactive way, and parents were pleased that their kids’ creativity was being fostered.

Kids said they loved learning about other people and using their imagination.

The progression of design thinking as a concept is a form of creation and invention adopted in businesses, and the natural next step for the school curriculum. Put simply, design thinking is a human-centred methodology of solving complex problems. Clearly businesses and individuals have been solving problems since the beginning of time, but design thinking does it differently by putting people at the centre of all the decisions that are made.

This is exactly how disruptive business models came about and overhauled market structures. Think Airbnb.

Design thinking does not include only engineers at one stage, and only designers at the other. Diversity of the team make up is fundamental to its success. People from all industries are involved at each stage, and are encouraged to view problems at a solutions point of view, rather than being bogged down in the problem itself.

They are encouraged to seek better understanding of the situation, reasons why, core drivers and business goals, rather than strictly adhering to business requirements. They should take a number of factors into consideration when working, including the practical (logic, reasoning), but also the less tangible elements, like imagination, innovation and intuition.

Design thinking is miles away from what I was taught at school. The very fact that I can’t remember, and the fact that my business was built on principles of my own, largely self-discovery, not those taught at school, is explanation enough that the curriculum needs to change to suit today’s climate and prepare children for the jobs of the future. In ‘The Future of Jobs 2027,’ Forrester predicts 10 million jobs will be lost as a direct result of the robotic revolution so we need to foster our children’s skills in the areas where only a human can succeed – empathy, innovation and creativity.

No longer is there only one right answer to one plus one. Nowadays, we need children to be encouraged to follow the rapid learn/build/measure cycle, and keep improving their innovations by iterating on the cycle.

Problem solving should be approached from a holistic and comprehensive manner, because these ideas will have an impact on our future. Children need to be taught how to brainstorm and think bigger. It’s not enough to simply teach them how to code, they need to understand why they code the solutions they’re taught and the human needs it answers. History teaches them where we have been – design thinking gives them a part in where we are going.


Katja Forbes is founder of Syfte, a specialist business in research and experience design.


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