Topic 3: Design Thinking

Design thinking is a cognitive process of creative, critical, and divergent thinking that scaffolds the path to creating solutions to problems (Greenhalgh, 2016). Design thinking methodology in the educational domain can prompt creative thinking within a digital environment. Kumer et al. (2020) define a creative person as a maker, thus, 3D printing technology can elicit creative thinking with design thinking.

Greenhalgh’s (2016) illustrates the comparison between using or not using technology in a design process.

(a) Technology limitation constrains students designing by hand = constrained creativity and design thinking (Greenhalgh, 2016, p. 763)

(b) Technology widens students’ design space for their designs = limitless creativity and design thinking (Greenhalgh, 2016, p. 763)

3D printing activities such as Makers Empire probe students’ imagination and support unlimited thinking because its highly iterative design process has no physical limitations (Choi & Kim, 2018; Greenhalgh, 2016). The more students are interested and engaged in the design process, the more creative ideas for multiple solutions will be produced (Choi & Kim, 2018). For example, children used design thinking to print their own 3D name tags with Makers Empire to solve their problem of having identical school bags (Makers Empire, n.d.).

Testing the solution to the problem of identical bags [screenshot of the video] (Makers Empire, 2017)

My design process of creating my name tag recorded

Students may not naturally possess cognitive skills to approach problems. Wright and Jones (2018) propose USERS, a curriculum framework that focuses on divergent thinking principles embedded in a hands-on learning environment that can expand students’ creativity in design thinking.

USERS by Wright and Jones (2018, p. 9)

The underlying foundation of design thinking lies in identifying the phenomena of the problem (Kumer et al., 2020). The first three stages of USERS consist of organising ideas, and turning problems into design questions to stimulate varying perspectives and possibilities. Students are eventually lead from divergent thinking to convergent thinking where multiple ideas convert to a narrower vision of solution by modifying or eliminating initial decisions (Wright & Jones, 2018). However, students often encounter a cognitive block in the first stages of USERS so teacher guidance is required to produce open-ended possibilities with 3D printing so then students can flexibly engage with their designs independently (Wright & Jones, 2018; Kumer et al., 2020; Choi & Kim, 2018).

3D prototyping will be meaningful for students as they can visualise the proposed solution and actively see the problem solved. Most students have a fear of failure, which hinders creative thinking (Choi & Kim, 2018). The hands-on characteristic of 3D prototyping allows endless editing of multiple ideas, which takes away fear of failure and nurtures multiple solutions (Wright & Jones, 2018). Design thinking also stems from perception and learning from others, thus interpersonal skills and collaborative learning are fundamental (Kumer et al., 2020; Wright & Jones, 2018). Students can obtain novel solutions from different perspectives.


Choi, H. H., & Kim, M. J. (2018). Using the digital context to overcome design fixation: A strategy to expand students’ design thinking. International Journal of Architectural Research, 12(1), 228-240. doi:10.26687/archnet-ijar.v12i1.1290

Greenhalgh, S. (2016). The effects of 3D printing in design thinking and design education. Technology and Engineering Teacher, 14(4), 752-769. doi:10.1108/JEDT-02-2014-0005

Makers Empire. (2017, June 21). Forbes Primary School Students Solve The Problem of Identical School Bags with 3D Printing [Video file]. Retrieved from

Makers Empire. (n.d.) What is Design Thinking? A Handy Guide for Teachers. Retrieved from

Kumar, K., Zindani, D., & Davim, J. P. (2020). Introduction to Design Thinking. In J. P. Davim (Ed.), Design Thinking to Digital Thinking (pp. 3-15). doi:10.1007/978-3-030-31359-3_1

Wright, G. A., & Jones, M. D. (2018). Innovation in the elementary classroom. The Technology Teacher, 77(5), 8-13.


4 thoughts on “Topic 3: Design Thinking”

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