Design Thinking and Informatics

Next week I’ll participate in a 2 day PhD course on”Design Thinking and Informatics” at HCCI-Doctoral research programme in Human Centered Communication and Informatics, Aalborg University. Course lecturers are Judith Gregory, Institute of Design, Illinois Institute of Technology & Anne Marie Kanstrup, Department of Communication and Psychology, Aalborg University.

Day one focuses on design thinking (vs. construction). Introductions will be made to the history of design thinking in general and current trends in design thinking in informatics in particular. Socio-technical, theoretical perspectives will be introduced and used in discussions of what this way of thinking means for students’ doctoral research projects.
Day two focuses on methodological practices and consequences of design thinking. Case examples will be presented for how selected methods have been employed and students will work on how to integrate design thinking into their research projects.

In order to enroll in this course I had to prepare 1-3 questions related to design within my PhD project. In my view design is an ambiguous term. I do use the term in my project, but depending on what area of my project it concerns, I use the term with different meanings. I tend to regard my whole project as a design, and in Danish I would use the term didactic design to strengthen that I’m concerned with design aimed at a pedagogical practice. However, when I speak with non-Scandinavians the term didactic doesn’t seem to make much sense, and I usually resolve to say educational design instead, but this doesn’t cover my project either. When I explain in further detail what my project entails people – especially Americans – often respond by saying “oh, you mean instructional design”. But instructional design is in my opinion related to a certain pedagogical epistemology on which I don’t agree. It has been suggested that I might use the term curriculum design, but that doesn’t really cover my project either … This uncertainty about how I should coin my design is the main reason for me to participate in the PhD course as I’m hoping it will inspire me to clarify not only the prefix but also the design concept in itself. I therefore have posed the following questions:

  1. How can I define (think of) Design? According to Owen.2004:3 design can be described as “a profession that is concerned with the creation of products, systems, communications and services that satisfy human needs, improve people’s lives and do all of this with respect for the welfare of the natural environment (…) Design involves problem finding, problem solving, analysis, invention and evaluation guided by a deep sensitivity to environmental concerns and human-centered aesthetic, cultural and functional needs.” However, this is not an adequate description of my design concept …
  2. How can I coin my design concept so that it includes pedagogical, participatory and technological aspects?

Rheingold. 2008 advocates for the need of Participative Pedagogy as a strategy for designing social media. Participation is already a keyword in my project – both with regards to my overall Action Research inspired approach and with regards to my pedagogical foundation within PBL and POPP. In spite of this, I’m not really sure how to include that particular keyword in describing my project. So as you can imagine, I’m in desperate need of the course ;-) Below I have placed some of my project’s keywords in Wordle, which seems as an appropriate way of illustrating my current state of mind – one big mess!


Another interesting part of this PhD course will be for me to figure out how I (my project) fit into the field of Informatics. At ELL we have several researches working within Informatics on either information processing and/or development/design of information systems (IS), but they are using a quite different terminology (which typically indicates different views and practices) and I don’t usually consider myself to be part of that “gang” at ELL. I don’t really like the term IS. First of all, I think the information part associates with a narrow view on communication and system(s) in my ears simply rings too machine’ish putting too much emphasis on the technology. I’m aware that system(s) in several theories* refers to human activity and organization, but I just don’t like it. From talks with my colleagues, I know they share most of my humanistic views and I probably will stand corrected on this after the course – not least because I know for sure that we have common interests on the methodological level. Anyways, I’m looking forward to a couple of interesting days, and hopefully I’ll soon be able to return with a clarifying post on my project design …


Owen, C.L (2004): What Is Design? Some questions and answers.

Rheingold, H. (2008): Participative Pedagogy for a Literacy of Literacies.

*) Intersting resource on theories used in IS

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