Design Thinking + Self-Awareness

Meredith James, Portland State University

Paper originally delivered at the UCDA Design Education Summit 2015, South Dakota State University, Brookings, SD.

To view the associated presentation, please see


“Design Thinking” is both a process and a set of cognitive tools used in acts of design. These activities are regularly employed by design practitioners to external problems, often in the role of mediation between ourselves and our environments, objects and information: also known as our “material culture.” As IDEO and Stanford’s d.School significantly shaped the concept of design thinking (essentially defining it as a structured process with emphasis on empathy, participatory design, and rapid prototyping), their concept has since broadened in scope and application to efforts beyond a product design / business application, and well beyond their doors. The essence of design thinking as it is used outside of design-proper, is to empower individuals and groups with a set of tools to affect change from within – moving design away from a colonialist activity to a native one. It is through this avenue that I propose we extend the concept further. Using design tactics in a native environment is a powerful idea. First, we are by no means limited to the tools and tactics currently associated with design thinking (divergence for example), but beyond this, a question arises that fundamentally challenges the existing paradigm – if we offer design thinking to non-designers, why not apply the same techniques to our own individual lives – what could be more native?