Finding Thought: an investigation into the development of critical thinking skills in Industrial Design



Design Education Research


  • thinking skills, problem-solving, product design

In higher education today, it is imperative to equip students with the skills required by their future profession. One such skill, as required of a professional Industrial Designer, is the ability to find creative and suitable solutions to often complex problems. As decision making and problem solving are key elements of a professional industrial designer‘s practice, they should be developed and encouraged as part of the tertiary programme. The trend towards learner driven investigation and research, as well as interactive mixed methodologies, have facilitated many projects requiring thinking skills. But does the learning environment support and develop these skills?

Noticing a change in the students coming from the school environment, an investigation began into critical thinking skills. Understanding and evaluating information is the essence of critical thinking. The Think tank project began in 2010, with selected students completing the Ennis-Weir Critical thinking test, a means of measuring thinking skills. Given the surprising results, it was necessary to examine the studio-based learning environment; problem based learning, as well as the processes and critiques in design education. The attributes of the Generation Y students were also contributing factors to the results. The type of test used also needed to be considered in the multilingual South African environment, with many students having English as a second or third language.

The Think tank project thus needed to consider different types of thinking (including Design Thinking), in order to fairly assess whether the learning environment is conducive to the development of critical thinking skills. This paper is a detailed case study of the pilot project, run during July 2011, with second year Industrial Design students at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. The findings of the case study are described here, as well as recommendations for future study and curriculum changes.

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