Enhancing Design Thinking for Student Success with ChatGPT

When the generative AI application ChatGPT burst into popular culture in November, 2022, many educational institutions reacted by banning the tool outright.  The fear was that it would enable students to automate their assignment writing.  And it did.  ChatGPT’s job is to generate text and answer questions given a prompt.  In most cases it does a really good job as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1.  Partial output from ChatGPT asked to write from a typical essay prompt.

However, essays are but one form of assessment and have long been touted as an unimaginative and outdated form of assessment.  I might even argue that the fact a computer application such as ChatGPT being able to write a convincing essay illustrates it is a poor form of assessment.  Proponents of the removal of essays in education institutions (Donald, 2018) suggest they a) are rarely a good measure of achievement for intended learning outcomes, b) may not be a students original work thanks to online essay mills, c) do not reflect writing practices in the real world and d) feedback is slow and sometimes non-existent.

This doesn’t mean that ChatGPT and associated AI do not have a place in education. New technologies are always posing challenges in the educational sector.  It’s not the technology that’s the issue, but the people and processes.  Educators’ approaches to these digital advancements must not be to deny their existence but to understand how they can be used to transform assessment.  AI tools, such as ChatGPT, offer students access to a wealth of information and can be most useful as research and practice guides in active and applied problem-solving tasks such as those used in design thinking.

Design Thinking is a methodology that cultivates innovation through experimentation.  In education, design thinking fosters a mindset of discovery, experimentation, rapid prototyping and creativity.

Design thinking is an iterative, circular, structured process consisting of the phases:

  • Empathise: understand the needs of the end user for whom they are designing
  • Define: specify the solution needs
  • Ideate: challenge existing assumptions and create ideas
  • Prototype: design and produce a solution
  • Test: determine suitability of prototype
  • Iterate: refine and improve design based on feedback from testing
  • Implement: turn the prototype into a real product
  • Share and Communicate: convey the design solution and benefits to others

When embedded in the curricula, design thinking empowers students in problem solving tasks to investigate new ideas, consult experts, research domains and design, build and test physical solutions in a highly collaborative environment.

So how can teachers embrace ChatGPT and use it to enhance design thinking approaches?

ChatGPT is capable of facilitating the generation of novel ideas, enhancing creativity and improving product development (Haleem, 2022).  It can reinforce the principles of design thinking through its ability to generate student centred solutions with its iterative problem solving approach (Enhold, 2022).  For each of the phases in design thinking, ChatGPT can be a useful tool.

Empathise with Chat GPT

During the empathise stage of Design Thinking, students seek to understand the needs and perspectives of the users for whom they are designing. ChatGPT can help by simulating user personas or providing insights from a hypothetical user’s point of view. Students can have conversations with the AI to explore different user scenarios and gain deeper empathy for their target audience. A typical conversation with ChatGPT in the role of a beginner user for students tasked with designing a new fitness app might look like this:

Student Team: We’re developing a fitness app and want to understand the needs of different types of users. Let’s start with a beginner user.

ChatGPT as Beginner User Persona:

  • Student Team: Hi there! We’re building a fitness app. Can you tell us about your fitness goals and any challenges you face as a beginner?
  • ChatGPT: Hey! I’m really excited to get into fitness. My goal is to lose some weight and become healthier. One of my main challenges is that I find it hard to stay motivated, and I’m not sure where to start with exercises and meal plans.
  • Student Team: Thanks for sharing! What would encourage you to use a fitness app regularly?
  • ChatGPT: Regular reminders and progress tracking would be great. If the app could show me simple workouts and provide guidance on what to eat, that would be super helpful too. Also, maybe some social features where I can connect with others on a similar journey.
  • Student Team: Got it! How do you feel about sharing your progress with others?
  • ChatGPT: I’m a bit shy about sharing, but if it’s in a supportive community where everyone is working towards similar goals, I might feel more comfortable sharing my achievements and getting advice.

This information can inform the design of the fitness app to ensure it addresses the needs and concerns of users in the Empathise stage.

Define with Chat GPT

In the Define stage, the goal is to distill the insights gained during the Empathize stage into a clear problem statement. Let’s continue with the fitness app example and see how ChatGPT can be used in this stage:

  • Student Team: We’ve gathered insights from our user personas. Now we need to define the main problem we’re trying to solve with our fitness app.
  • ChatGPT: Sure, I’d be happy to help. What are the key challenges or pain points you’ve identified from your conversations with users?
  • Student Team: Based on our conversations, we’ve found that beginners struggle with staying motivated, finding suitable workouts, and planning their meals effectively.
  • ChatGPT: Great. Now, let’s try to craft a problem statement that captures these challenges. How about something like: “Our fitness app needs to address the lack of motivation, provide beginner-friendly workout guidance, and offer meal planning support to help users kickstart their fitness journey.”
  • Student Team: That’s a concise way to put it. But we also want to emphasize the need for a supportive community aspect. How about: “Our fitness app needs to create a motivational and inclusive platform that offers tailored workouts, meal planning, and a supportive community for beginners seeking a sustainable fitness transformation.”
  • ChatGPT: That sounds excellent! You’ve incorporated the key challenges and highlighted the community aspect, which is a unique feature. This problem statement will guide your design process effectively.

In this example, ChatGPT assists the students in refining their problem statement by synthesizing the insights gained from the Empathize stage. The AI helps the team craft a statement that encompasses the main challenges while also reflecting the desired features and benefits of their fitness app.

Ideate with Chat GPT

Next, in the Ideate stage, the goal is to generate a wide range of creative ideas. ChatGPT can be used to facilitate brainstorming and explore innovative concepts. Let’s continue with the fitness app example and see how ChatGPT can be involved:

  • Student Team: We’re in the “Ideate” stage now. We want to generate creative ideas for features that could make our fitness app stand out. Can you help us brainstorm?
  • ChatGPT: Certainly! I’d be happy to assist. Let’s start with some ideas:
  1. Personalized Workout Plans: Create an algorithm that generates customized workout plans based on user preferences, goals, and fitness levels.
  2. Virtual Workout Buddy: Integrate a virtual fitness buddy that guides users through workouts, provides encouragement, and corrects their form.
  3. Healthy Recipe Swaps: Include a feature that suggests healthier alternatives for users’ favorite meals and snacks.
  4. Challenges and Rewards: Implement fitness challenges with rewards, such as unlocking new workouts, badges, or discounts on fitness gear.
  5. Interactive Progress Tracker: Design an engaging visual tracker that shows users their progress through achievements, graphs, and before-and-after photos.
  6. Live Classes and Workshops: Offer live streaming of fitness classes, nutrition workshops, and Q&A sessions with fitness experts.
  7. Mindfulness Integration: Include short mindfulness exercises or meditation sessions to promote holistic well-being.
  • Student Team: These are great ideas! How can we ensure that the app remains user-friendly while incorporating these features?
  • ChatGPT: To maintain user-friendliness, consider a clean and intuitive user interface, easy navigation between features, and clear instructions for using each feature. User testing and feedback loops can help refine the app’s usability.
  • Student Team: Thanks for your insights! These ideas will definitely help us create a unique and user-centered fitness app.

As can be seen in this example, ChatGPT generates a variety of innovative ideas for the fitness app’s features. The AI also provides guidance on how to ensure user-friendliness and usability while incorporating these ideas. The students can use these suggestions as a springboard for further discussions and concept development during the Ideate stage.

Prototype with Chat GPT

The goal of the Prototype stage is to create a tangible representation of the ideas generated in the “Ideate” stage. ChatGPT can help students conceptualize and plan their prototypes thus:

  • Student Team: We’re moving on to the “Prototype” stage. We have some great ideas for features, and now we need to create a prototype to test them. How should we go about designing the prototype?
  • ChatGPT: I can provide you with a step-by-step outline for creating your fitness app prototype:
  1. Feature Prioritization: Decide which features are essential for the initial prototype. You might want to focus on a few key features to keep the prototype manageable.
  2. User Flows: Map out the user journeys for each feature. Define how users will navigate through the app and interact with different elements
  3. Wireframes: Create rough sketches or digital wireframes for each screen of the app. These can be simple black-and-white representations of the layout and elements.
  4. Interactive Elements: Identify the interactive elements on each screen, such as buttons, sliders, and input fields. Describe how they should behave when clicked or interacted with.
  5. Visual Design: Decide on the color scheme, typography, and visual elements that align with your app’s branding and user experience.
  6. Prototype Tool: Choose a tool like Figma, Sketch, or Adobe XD to build your interactive prototype. These tools allow you to link screens and simulate user interactions.
  7. Create Links: Use the chosen tool to link the wireframes together to create a flow that users can navigate through. Make sure to simulate how each feature works.
  8. Test and Iterate: Share the prototype with a small group of users and gather feedback. Use this feedback to make improvements and refinements to your prototype.

  • Student Team: This is really helpful! Should we include placeholder content in the prototype, or should we create actual content for the app?
  • ChatGPT: For the prototype, you can use placeholder content to simulate the user experience. However, for key features that significantly affect usability, you might consider creating more detailed mockups to accurately represent how those features will function.
  • Student Team: Thank you for the guidance! We’ll follow these steps to create an effective prototype for our fitness app.

In this example, ChatGPT provides a structured approach to creating a prototype for the fitness app. The AI outlines the key steps, considerations, and decisions needed to build an interactive representation of the app’s features and functionality.

Test with Chat GPT

During the Test stage when the goal is to gather feedback from users and evaluate the prototype’s effectiveness. ChatGPT can simulate user interactions and provide insights into potential user reactions. A chat about the fitness app might go like this:

  • Student Team: We’ve created a prototype of our fitness app. Now we need to test it with potential users to gather feedback. How can we effectively simulate user interactions and understand their thoughts?
  • ChatGPT: I can help you simulate user interactions and provide insights into how users might react to different aspects of the app. Let’s go through a testing scenario:
  • Student Team: Okay, let’s imagine a user scenario. A user opens the app and wants to start a workout. How would they interact with the prototype?
  • ChatGPT as User: Hi, I’m excited to start a workout! I’ll probably look for a “Start Workout” button or something similar on the home screen. Once I tap that, I’d expect to see options for different types of workouts—maybe cardio, strength, or yoga. I’ll choose one and hope to see clear instructions and visuals for the exercises.
  • Student Team: That’s helpful! What if the user encounters a problem during the workout, like not understanding an exercise?
  • ChatGPT as User: If I’m confused about an exercise, I’d look for a “Help” button or icon to get more information. It would be great if there’s a brief explanation and maybe a video demonstration to show me how to do the exercise correctly.
  • Student Team: Thanks for sharing your perspective! How do you feel about sharing your progress with others in the app’s community?
  • ChatGPT as User: Sharing progress could be motivating, but I might feel a bit shy. If there’s an option to share anonymously or within a small group of friends, I’d be more likely to participate.
  • Student Team: This is insightful! Your feedback helps us anticipate user behaviors and preferences. We’ll take these insights into account when refining the app.

Here, ChatGPT plays the role of a simulated user, providing feedback on how the user might interact with the fitness app prototype. The AI offers insights into user expectations, potential challenges, and preferences during different stages of app usage. This helps the students understand how users might perceive and interact with their design, ultimately improving the app’s usability and effectiveness.

Iterate with Chat GPT

Moving onto the Iterate stage where the goal is to refine and improve the design based on the feedback received during testing, ChatGPT can provide suggestions for making adjustments and offer insights on how to address any issues that were identified. The chat about the fitness app might continue like this:

  • Student Team: We’ve gathered feedback from users who tested our fitness app prototype. Now we need to refine the design based on their feedback. How can we effectively iterate and make improvements?
  • ChatGPT: I can help you brainstorm ideas for iterating on your design based on the feedback you’ve received. Let’s go through some potential adjustments:

  1. Clarify Exercise Instructions: Since users mentioned confusion about exercises, consider adding clearer step-by-step instructions with visual cues for each exercise. Videos or GIFs demonstrating proper form could be beneficial.
  2. Help and Support: To address users’ need for assistance, include a visible “Help” section or chatbot feature that users can access from any screen. This could provide immediate guidance for any issues they encounter.
  3. Anonymous Sharing: To encourage participation in the community, allow users to share progress anonymously or create smaller, private groups where users feel more comfortable sharing achievements and challenges.
  4. Customized Recommendations: Incorporate personalized workout and meal recommendations based on users’ goals and preferences. This can make the app feel more tailored to individual needs.
  5. Visual Progress Tracking: Enhance the progress tracking feature with visual elements, such as graphs and comparison photos, to give users a clearer view of their achievements.
  6. Usability Tweaks: Address any navigation issues or points of confusion mentioned by users during testing. Ensure that the app is intuitive to use and that interactive elements are easy to identify.
  7. Responsive Design: If users provided feedback about the app’s performance on different devices, make sure the app is responsive and functions well across various screen sizes.
  • Student Team: These are great suggestions! How can we prioritize these changes and decide what to work on first?
  • ChatGPT: Prioritization depends on the severity of the issues and the impact on the user experience. You might want to start with changes that address critical pain points, improve usability, and enhance core features. Conducting a small survey or additional user feedback sessions could help you gauge which changes would provide the most value to your users.
  • Student Team: Thank you for helping us navigate the iteration process! These ideas will guide our efforts to refine the app based on user feedback.

In this example, ChatGPT assists the students in generating ideas for iterating on the fitness app design based on user feedback. The AI provides actionable suggestions for addressing user concerns and enhancing the app’s features, usability, and overall user experience.

Implementation with Chat GPT

When it comes to turning the prototype into a functional design, ChatGPT can help with the planning of the Implementation stage. It can make technical decisions, and provide insights into potential challenges. Take a look at an example conversation:

  • Student Team: We’ve refined our fitness app prototype based on user feedback. Now, we’re ready to move on to the “Implement” stage. How can we effectively bring our design to life?
  • ChatGPT: I can provide you with guidance on the implementation process. Let’s go through the steps:
  1. Technical Stack: Decide on the technologies and tools you’ll use for development. Choose a programming language, framework, and any third-party libraries that align with your project’s requirements.
  2. Database Design: Plan how you’ll store user data, exercise information, and other app-related data. Design the database schema and relationships between tables.
  3. Feature Development: Break down your app’s features into smaller tasks or user stories. Assign these tasks to your development team and set priorities for implementation.
  4. User Interface: Translate your refined design and wireframes into a functional user interface. Use your chosen UI framework to create the layout, components, and interactions.
  5. Integration: Integrate any APIs or external services that your app relies on. This could include fitness tracking APIs, payment gateways, or social media integration for the community aspect.
  6. Testing: Conduct thorough testing to identify and fix any bugs, glitches, or inconsistencies. Perform both unit testing (testing individual components) and end-to-end testing (testing the entire app flow).
  7. User Acceptance Testing: Invite a small group of users to test the app before launching. Gather feedback to ensure that the app meets their expectations and works as intended.
  8. Scalability: Consider how the app will handle a growing user base. Ensure that the architecture can handle increased traffic and usage over time.
  9. Performance Optimization: Optimize the app’s performance, including load times, responsiveness, and overall user experience.
  • Student Team: Thanks for the steps! How can we ensure that the app maintains the same user experience as the prototype during implementation?
  • ChatGPT: To maintain the user experience, refer back to your refined prototype and design documentation. Ensure that the visual design, interactions, and features match what was tested and approved during the earlier stages. Regular communication between designers and developers is crucial to ensure alignment.
  • Student Team: We’re excited to bring our design to life! Your insights have been incredibly helpful.

Here, ChatGPT provides a structured approach to the implementation process for the app. The AI outlines the key steps, considerations, and decisions needed to turn the refined design into a functional and user-friendly solution.

Share and Communicate with Chat GPT

Finally, ChatGPT can assist in the Share and Communicate stage. The goal here is to effectively convey the design solution and its benefits to stakeholders and users. The AI can help generate persuasive narratives, create presentation materials, and formulate key messages like this:

  • Student Team: We’ve developed our fitness app, and now we need to communicate its value to potential users and stakeholders. How can we create compelling communication materials?
  • ChatGPT: I can assist you in crafting persuasive messaging and creating communication materials. Let’s go through the process:
  1. Key Messages: Define the core value propositions of your fitness app. What sets it apart? Is it the tailored workouts, community engagement, or personalized nutrition recommendations?
  2. User Stories: Create relatable user stories that highlight how the app has positively impacted real users. Share before-and-after anecdotes, user testimonials, or success stories.
  3. Visual Assets: Develop visually engaging assets such as images, videos, and infographics that showcase the app’s features, benefits, and user journey.
  4. Explainer Videos: Create a short video that introduces the app, explains its main features, and demonstrates how it solves user problems. This can be especially effective for capturing attention.
  5. Website and Landing Page: Design a user-friendly website or landing page that provides clear information about the app’s benefits, features, pricing, and how to get started.
  6. Social Media Content: Develop a content strategy for social media platforms to generate buzz and engage with potential users. Share sneak peeks, behind-the-scenes content, and user-generated stories.
  7. Press Release: Write a compelling press release that outlines the launch of the app, its unique features, and its potential impact on users’ fitness journeys.
  • Student Team: These are great ideas! How can we ensure that our communication materials effectively resonate with our target audience?
  • ChatGPT: To resonate with your audience, consider these tips:
  1. Understand Your Audience: Know your target demographic, their preferences, pain points, and aspirations. Tailor your messaging to address their specific needs.
  2. Use Clear Language: Avoid jargon or technical terms that might confuse your audience. Use simple, straightforward language to convey your message.
  3. Highlight Benefits: Focus on how the app will improve users’ lives. Clearly communicate the value they’ll receive from using the app.
  4. Visual Consistency: Maintain a consistent visual style across all communication materials to reinforce your brand and create a cohesive look.
  • Student Team: Thank you for your guidance! We’re excited to effectively share our fitness app with the world.

ChatGPT helps the students, in this example, to craft effective communication strategies and materials to share their fitness app with stakeholders and potential users. The AI provides tips for messaging, storytelling, and visual consistency to ensure that the communication resonates with the target audience.

As has been shown here, ChatGPT and similar AI chatbots can be powerful classroom tools, not through the automation of rote learning activities but through the provision of an interactive and collaborative tool that acts as a sounding board and guide during the design thinking process. Banning access to new and evolving technologies, because they are poorly understood by educators who may feel threatened by them, is not a smart nor progressive way to evolve the curriculum or assessment.  New technologies always find a way into the classroom when students find them compelling.  It’s now the educators’ job to embrace this technological evolution and integrate it into their teaching practices just as their predecessors have over the past several hundred years.  

For even the humble book at the invention of the printing press had its skeptics and was declared by 15th Century German Scholar, Johannes Trithemius as a negative influence on learning and knowledge transmission. He wrote:

“Printed books will never be the equivalent of handwritten codices, for half the book is the author’s while the other half consists of the reader’s comments. Without the latter, the book is dead; God himself must open its pages before it comes to life.”

All new technology has the potential to enhance the learning and teaching process.  However, it is how it is used and integrated into existing processes that are important.  Without proper guidance, students will take the easiest path, which is to see ChatGPT as a godsend for writing up a quick essay.  Though, as has been explored herein, it can be so much more.

In the words of ChatGPT, “It’s important to note that while ChatGPT can be a valuable resource, it’s most effective when used in combination with human expertise and collaboration. Design thinking emphasises the value of multidisciplinary teams, and ChatGPT can serve as an AI collaborator that enhances the creative and problem-solving processes.”

Dr Penny de Byl

Dr Penny de Byl

Dr Penny de Byl is the senior Unity developer at Makers Empire and founder and CEO of Holistic3D.com an online education provider of courses in computer game development and related subjects. Throughout her career, in universities both nationally and abroad, she has been driven by her love of visual art and computer programming. Her passion lies in developing algorithms to generate 3d game environments and revealing the beauty of mathematics through her work to students. She’s written many research papers focusing on games-based learning in addition to books on the Unity Game Engine, OpenGL and Python. Penny is also the proud mother of Tabytha, who is currently undertaking studies in mathematics and computer science at the University of Queensland.

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