4 ways to help students identify needs and opportunities and to design apt solutions

At Makers Empire, we believe that design thinking skills are crucial tools for students to have in their kit bags as they prepare to thrive into the 21st century. Students who can successfully follow design thinking processes are best placed to think creatively, critique and analyze situations and products, create solutions to problems, visualize new ideas and innovations, and believe in their abilities to improve the world and make a difference.

Designing and printing with 3D technologies can be so much more than just about ‘making stuff’. Makers Empire 3D for Schools provides tools and resources to help students develop skills and understandings throughout every stage of the design thinking process. Students need to experience the design cycle in meaningful contexts where their designs and the solutions they develop are relevant to their own worlds.

One of the key aspects of the design thinking process is to be able to identify needs and opportunities for our design endeavors. Students need to investigate, explore and critique needs, opportunities and information in order to define the design challenge they are embracing. Having a clearly defined understanding of the design brief will guide students as they work through the design process and develop focussed, purposeful solutions and designs for specific contexts.

So how do we position students to be on the look-out for problems and design opportunities? To design seekers and design finders?

Here are our four favorite strategies:

1) Design detectives

Encourage students to be curious about the world around them. To make observations and notice things. Take a walk outside with your students and expect them to come back with at least three probing questions? Why is the school fence so high? Why are the toilets so far away from the junior school? How could we make our schoolyard look nicer? Design thinkers challenge the status quo, they don’t just accept the way things are, but are constantly on the look-out for things that could be improved.

2) Design brief

Once a design need or opportunity has been identified, it needs to be defined and understood from a range of points of view. Design thinkers work best when they know what it is they are trying to solve or achieve. Support students to frame the needs and opportunities they have identified as a design brief. What is the problem? Who are they solving it for? Why is it important?

3) Interviews

Design thinking is a human-centered process. It’s all about humans solving problems or improving situations for other humans. Therefore, it is important that designers understand the design brief from the perspective of the person or group they are designed for. Interviewing and talking to other people is a great way to understand how other experience situations and the specific problems they face. Developing empathy for others is an essential and valuable aspect of design thinking. Students might formulate specific interview questions or spend time chatting with others, sharing stories and making observations about their experiences.

4) Critiquing and analyzing

Provide opportunities for students to analyze and critique products that already exist. For example, you might bring along a collection of kitchen utensils and ask students to identify the positive and negative aspects of them. This could then lead to students being asked to identify ways to improve the utensils. What could make them better? For who?


Mandi Dimitriadis, DipT. is an experienced classroom teacher who recognizes the power of technology to enhance teaching and improve educational outcomes. Mandi has extensive experience with curriculum development and learning, having previously developed programs for the Australian Government’s Department of Education. She is passionate about Design Thinking and how best to prepare today’s students for the future.

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