Design Thinking for Higher Education

Published in
4 min readJan 25, 2016


We don’t tend to promote Design Thinking as a service at Konrad+King, yet, because of its buzzworthiness, our customers often come to us asking how to use it. They share a common desire to “think like designers” — to somehow channel and harness the divergent, often unrestrained, thinking found in these plaid-shirted, oversized-glasses-wearing fruitcakes. I tell all of them that I don’t want them to become designers; I want them to be themselves because one of the keys to the Design Thinking kingdom is multidiscipline collaboration. A team with diverse backgrounds collaborating to solve problems will out produce a team of only designers any day of the week…and we are here to help them do just that.

Think Like Designers

My goal with customers like these is to enhance their problem-solving and innovation process by facilitating the successful methods that designers use. In almost all of our projects at Konrad+King, this is done through Design Thinking workshops. We focus our customers the way we focus ourselves — being human-centered, being systematic thinkers, collaborating fools, iterators, visualizers, prototypers, and most importantly being doers rather than over-analyzers and meeting makers. Whether used early in the project, to outline priorities, or later, as part of concept creation, these workshops are the cornerstone to how we approach our services.

When you bring these tools to bear, Design Thinking is meant to be the universal problem solver, equally available to technologists, accountants, medical researchers, government officials, or, like the subject of today’s blog, educators.

A few months back our friends at Instructional Technology Services at San Diego State University started talking to us about helping them outline and prioritize new projects. We started this business to solve complex problems, so we jumped right in. And complex problems they were — helping to lower the occurrence of repeatable grades, tracking faculty support across divisions and schools, keeping up with changes and alternatives in education technology, aligning faculty technology use with student educational needs, and improving the next-generation faculty and student experience.

Allie getting started with Pick 3

Once we had identified the objectives for the ITS team, we structured a Design Thinking workshop for them using a method that has proven successful for solving problems across industries:

  • Recognize Problems: Spend considerable effort understanding deeply the problems you need to solve. Use methods like design research or stakeholder interviews to collect the information you need to identify your problems. For the ITS project we were lucky enough to have stakeholders from all across the customer base to help identify key problems.
  • Identify Customers: Identifying the customers and their needs are imperative for your product’s success. If you aren’t solving problems for your customers, you are wasting your time. Keep in mind that there are often multiple customers — for ITS’ complex infrastructure, their customers spanned staff, faculty, and students so solutions had to be multidimensional.
  • Understand Context: To solve big problems, it is crucial that you expand your thinking — what are the systems, touch-points, activities, environments, and technology that you are designing for. Again ITS proved to be one of the most complex clients we had worked with — classrooms, labs, Blackboard conferencing, digital records, remote access — they all played a role in designing solutions.
  • Generate Solutions: Our goal for workshops is generally to generate as many ideas as we can in the shortest amount of time, incorporating as many different perspectives as possible. To do this, you’ll need to use every tool in the shed. For ITS, we used a modified, time-boxed Design Studio exercise that allowed us to generate over 60 ideas in one afternoon.
  • Critique & Converge: Having multidiscipline teams can greatly benefit this process by strengthening and expanding the ideas into bona fide solutions. For ITS, We used both a design critique and a judging technique to both improve and ground the team’s solutions.

The end result of our workshop was a prioritized and scalable 2-year roadmap with seven solid product concepts, 4 areas for future innovation, and 4 plug-and-play projects that could be initiated at any time. Over the next few years, look for SDSU’s ITS team to continue to lead innovation in instructional technology as they roll out their new solutions.

Jesse setting priorities with KJ

Our Design Thinking workshop with SDSU’s ITS team was one of those projects that I strive for as a designer; one where we take design beyond the product and the screen to solve complex, real-world problems like those in higher education. It was a pleasure to work with the dedicated, creative, and prolific team at ITS, even if just for a day. They proved that you do not have to be a designer to create valuable solutions for your customers.

Konrad+King facilitates one-day and multi-day Design Thinking product workshops for some of the world’s most innovative companies. If you would like more information about us facilitating one for your team contact

Originally published at on January 25, 2016.