Reaping Research Skills from the Rigorous Application of Design Thinking




Design Thinking, Future of Work, User Needs Analysis, Research Skills, IoT group assignment


This paper investigates the relationship between design thinking and the research process, and argues that design thinking can foster the development of research skills. The paper reports on a case where first year Information Systems students apply Design Thinking (DT) in an Internet of Things (IoT) practical assignment. The Hasso Plattner Institute (HPI)’s design thinking process is applied, which entails five phases: empathise, define, ideate, prototype and test. In the Empathise phase, students must collect and analyse data in order to understand user needs. This enables them to arrive at an evidence-based problem definition in the define phase. Later, during the test phase, data is again collected and documented on the user’s experience of the prototype. User feedback is then compared with the documented user needs and adjustments are made to address the possible gap. While design thinking is not a conventional research methodology, its use in this manner adds rigour and a scientific base for devising creative solutions. In the group assignment, students were required to document their implementation of the five DT phases by means of a group blog, which was used to assess their projects. While assessing the blogs, the lecturers noted that the students who were more thorough and meticulous in documenting and analysing the user need data, were able to arrive at designs that more appropriately responded to the user’s needs. Furthermore, students who provided quotes and/or transcripts of their user interviews, followed by similarly documented feedback during the demonstration and testing of their prototypes, not only convinced that they addressed the real user problem, but the rigour they applied facilitated more innovative designs. This was an interesting finding, because the innovation itself is usually associated with the creative phases (ideate and prototype) rather than the empathise and test phases. This paper argues that when applying DT in a rigorous manner, students are enabled not only to produce better designs, but they also gain valuable research skills for their future benefit.

Author Biographies

Lizette Weilbach, Department of Informatics, University of Pretoria

Senior lecturer, Department of Informatics

Sean Kruger, Department of Business Management, University of Pretoria

Senior lecturer, Department of Business Management