Design thinking in PhD studies

This proposed task is addressed to PhD students. As part of the seminar, first-year doctoral students must choose the subject of their doctoral thesis and general research interests. They pass through the basic stages of DT thanks to having previously presented selected, exemplary problems and searching for many solutions. It is possible to learn creative thinking in the form of fun and after four hours of classes, develop specific research problems with the initial concept of their solution. The task is good as a first class with the PhD students to awaken their creativity and practice thinking out of the box.

Keywords: PhD seminars, creativity in scientific work, persona, brainstorm, dot voting,

social sciences Other

Participant / Student profile(s)

The course is for PHD students. But in Poland, PhD students are not only students, they are also professionals and works in different places/institutions so they will use this background also.

This task involves learners in:
  • Collaborative engagement / Group work / Participatory Learning and Action (PLA)
  • Design Thinking
  • Interdisciplinary thinking
  • Framing the question / Wicked problem
  • Convergent thinking
  • Explorative work, collecting problem data (e.g. interviewing, brainstorming, etc.)
  • Creative critical thinking – reflection and feedforward – fail fast and culture of error
  • Recognizing motivations and needs
  • Prototyping solutions
Group(s) involved in the process of generating the task:
  • Students
Estimated time required
Time Context
4,5 h classroom time (including assessment and activities)
4,5 h Total student work load
90 h Total student work load
Complexity/Difficulty level of the task

Not adjustable to students’ previous knowledge and familiarity with the topic"

Objectives of the overall task

At the end of this task learners will be able to:

  • Affective Skills
  • – Valuing: EMPATHIZING expectations of scientific work, practical issues related to scientific research,
  • Cognitive Skills
  • – Understanding: SIMULATING simulations of scientific research, proposed research issues the researcher’s creative work in the field of social
  • – Evaluating: CHOOSING the best, most creative solutions to the research problem
Target competences (based on World Economic Forum skills)
  • Critical Thinking/Problem Solving
  • Creativity
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Curiosity
  • Initiative
  • Adaptability
  • Leadership
Study aids / Equipment needed / Learning space requirements

Sticky notes, boards, markers, paper tape, flip charts

ICT and other teaching and/or digital learning aids/tools

For each technology (digital AND non-digital), include an explanation of HOW that choice of technology helps the learner to LEARN

Learning activities

Presentation about the design thinking (history, areas of implementation with examples). Students are getting familiar with DT basics before starting to work using this approach. This part should take no more than 10 min.

Learners will do:

Learners will get to know the basic knowledge about the design thinking (eg. History, areas of use, examples of implementation).

Teachers will do:

Teacher is presenting the short presentation about the history of the design thinking (eg. Power point)

n a short introduction to what students should expect during the seminar, they will see what the DT process looks like: the rules for collaboration (eg. fail fast, be open and curious, every idea is a good idea), what materials they will need, etc. - 5 min.

Learners will do:

Learners are getting familiar to the rules and the process of the design thinking.

Teachers will do:

Teacher is presenting the goals of the seminar and present how it will look like (eg. Power point).

Groups forming (20 min) Smaller groups of 3-5 people are created by distributing 3-5 different types of candy and asking students with the same type of candy to work together. Students have 10 min to talk and to get to know each other better. After 10 min they should prepare and present the name of the group which is somehow connected to things which are familiar to all members.

Learners will do:

Learners are getting to know each others in the groups.

Teachers will do:

Teacher is dividing students into groups and giving task to do.

Emphatizing (about 45 min) After presenting Empathizing, the first phase of the DT process and giving the first task to the students, they receive 6 pictures of an apartment to determine who is living in this place, what problems/needs the resident(s) might have, what their life looks like. After individually using sticky notes to write their ideas, then they discuss their findings and cluster similar issues on the flipcharts. The second task in this phase is creating the persona. Each group creates at least one persona on the template given by the teacher. They sum up the discussion and together decide on the following topics: who is the person?, what is she/he doing?, what are his/her problems and needs? etc. The resulting personas are displayed for presentation to the whole class. The teacher or student volunteer should conclude the activity with an overview of the results of the Empathizing process.

Learners will do:

Learners are creating the personas on the base of the pictures they are seeing.

Teachers will do:

Teacher is presenting the first phase of the design thinking process (eg. Power point) and giving task to do.

Defining and Creating (about 45 min) TAfter presenting Defining and Creating, the teams work on defining the problem/challenge for the persona they have created. The challenge is formulated using the question format How might we…? After working individually on paper, they then discuss and formulate the final version of the challenge to display on their team wall. Brainstorming: In the second part of this activity, the students individually write as many ideas as possible - using a new sticky for each separate idea - to solve the challenge of the persona. Their individual collections of ideas are categorized according to time, cost, and people: 1) the ideas that can be implemented in less than 2 months; 2) the ideas that cost less than €5,000 to implement; and 3) the ideas which involve many other people from the community. After this individual work, team members share their ideas and cluster those which are similar on their team wall/flipchart. Dot voting: Each student receives 5 sticky dots to vote for the best ideas of the solution to be worked on. Of the 5 total dots to vote, they can put them all toward one idea, for example, if they see it as the absolute best solution. The voting determines the idea to be developed by the team.

Learners will do:

Learners are working on defining the challenge for the group and then, to create possible solutions. At the end, they are choosing the final one, which will be prototyped.

Teachers will do:

Teacher is presenting the second and third phase of the design thinking process (eg. Power point) and giving task to do.

Prototyping and testing (about 40 min) After showing students how they can prototype their solutions, the groups use the materials gathered in the room to prototype the solutions.

Learners will do:

Learners are using the materials to create a prototype of the solution.

Teachers will do:

Teacher is presenting the fourth phase of the design thinking process (eg. Power point) and giving task to do.

Each group has 5 min to present their prototype and then 5 min to answer questions. Students also note down all ideas for improvement of the prototypest.

Learners will do:

Learners are presenting the prototypes to other groups and answering on their questions/

Teachers will do:

Teacher is giving feedback to each group.


Joanna Górka,, Maria Curie-Sklodowska University, Lublin, Poland,

Active citizenship. Focus group research project on politics and associations