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Design Thinking: A New Way of Thinking or a Public Resurgence of an Ancient Idea?

Oct 22, 2019

Harnessing Design Thinking: Modern Strategies for Innovation

You may have heard the idea of Design Thinking batted about on the internet. This is the “new” way businesses are working on being more innovative. The great thing is that graphic designers have been thinking this way for years. Many of the concepts can even be found way back in Cicero’s (an ancient Roman statesman and philosopher) writings.

The main points of Design Thinking according to IDEOU, the inventor of the terminology, are:

  1. Frame a Question: What is the question that needs a solution?
  2. Gather Inspiration: Discover what people need
  3. Generate Ideas: Push past the obvious
  4. Make Ideas Tangible: Prototype
  5. Test to Learn: Refine ideas
  6. Share the Story: Craft a story to inspire action

The great thing is that when you study graphic design, you learn all of these points, just with different names.

  1. Know Your Audience

This is the first point in any project. Who are you designing for? Cicero and others of his day often talked about the importance of knowing your audience. In order to appeal to or convince someone to do something or think a different way, you have to know something about them. In this case maybe you frame a question about “What would cause a dog owner to pick up my brochure for this new dog food and then buy it?”

  1. Research

This prong could be titled many different things. Creatives often have a “morgue file” of ideas. A more modern interpretation would be a Pinterest board full of visual inspiration. Pull out your dictionary. This is the point where you define your solutions and start looking more closely at what your solution needs to look like in order to appeal to your audience.

  1. Thumbnails

Sketch out lots of ideas–even the dumb ones. Get the ideas on paper, narrow down your favorites, and start to refine them.

  1. Mockups

Similar to prototypes, a mockup can be 2D or 3D depending on your end design. Start drawing on real paper sizes. Print out brochures to see how folds meet up. Lay out a web page in Photoshop. Mockups are ways of roughing out the ideas to see if they work practically.

  1. Critiques

Getting critiques is an important step of getting feedback on what works or doesn’t work. It may indicate what the target audience would like. Sometimes these results require that you go back to the drawing board.

  1. Putting the solution to use

Sometimes this requires marketing, placing a physical piece in strategic places, or letting people know that a new tool is available.

Many fields of study and work put some kind of procedure in place. Design thinking isn’t new, but thinking like a graphic designer can be a great tool to have in your pocket. It’s almost like a scientific method for creatives.

So come join us in a graphic design class at Excelsior Classes and learn how to start thinking like a designer.


Carissa Sheehan is a big fan of creating life-long critical thinkers and creative problem solvers. Learning how to approach problems in a visual way adds an amazing dimension to those skills. The bulk of her career has been spent working in graphic design for Christian ministries and nonprofits.

Carissa graduated with a Bachelors in Art from John Brown University and later with her Masters in Applied Linguistics from the University of Colorado at Denver. She has taught outdoor education classes, coached volleyball, and tutored adults in ESL.

In the field of graphic design she has worked as a designer as well as a Creative Director and Art Director. Much of her experience has been in small departments where she has learned the process of design from concept to delivery. This enables her to offer real world examples and advice to students who are either interested in making graphic design their collegiate field of study or who would like to use it as a way to earn money as a freelancer right away. 

After studying watercolor and oil painting in college, she discovered the joys of painting with acrylic paint. She runs a small paint party business as well as sells some of her work online. She loves the laid back approach to painting exemplified in people like Bob Ross and strives to pass on an enjoyment and mastery of painting to her students.

The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the author and should not be taken to represent the views of Excelsior Classes, LLC or the consortium of teachers.