What is a design challenge? Design challenges require more than a simple internet search to find a solution. For design challenges there is not one solution and when posing the question, it is not easy to predict what the solution will be.

Time needed: 20 minutes

How to formulate a good design challenge

It is important to formulate a design challenge carefully. Here are some guidelines that can help you formulate a good design challenge.


The challenge should be solvable by designing something tangible. ‘Why’ questions are usually not good design challenges.


The design challenge should be an open question, asking for example ‘how’ or ‘what’, instead of yes or no questions.


Think about the feasibility of the challenge. Do not pose a larger challenge than you and your design team will be able to solve.


A good way to formulate a design challenge: start with the words ‘how might we’.

The Complexity score

For the design challenges in this training module we have used a complexity score based on the model of Gill & Hicks (2006). This complexity score has three categories:

Information processing requirements

Information Processing Requirements is about the time needed to solve a challenge and the amount of knowledge to be acquired.

The time needed to solve a challenge can range from several hours to several months. It is good to consider the expected time, both when solving challenges in a teacher design team and in the classroom.

Framing the challenge in a different way can alter the time needed to increase feasibility.

For instance, when solving the design challenge worked out on card 17, concerning lowering the ecological foot print of Kinder eggs, you could frame it differently by focusing only optimizing shape and packaging for transport, making it more of a mathematics challenge and reducing the information processing requirements.

When framing the question to focus on the materials and production methods used, about which your pupils probably do not know a lot yet, you increase information processing requirements.

Amount of structure

Amount of structure concerns the amount of structure given in the challenge card, the novelty of the task, and the degree of uncertainty.

The novelty of the task is largely dependent on who is solving the challenge, the degree of uncertainty is about how many possible solutions there could be: the more possibilities, the higher the complexity.

The amount of structure is especially important when using design thinking in the classroom: you as a teacher can choose to impose the use of specific cards, give pupils a choice between specific cards, or even let them choose freely between all cards.

The degree of uncertainty can be altered by framing the challenge differently: the more specific the challenge, the less uncertain the outcome.


Think of a design challenge you have in mind for your organisation or your classroom. Think about the different components of complexity for this challenge. How could you make the challenge more or less complex?

Complexity of the underlying structure

Complexity of underlying structure is about the context where the challenge is situated.

In a design challenge concerning climate change, many more and complex factors play a role than in a design challenge situated in a school. This latter design challenge will be much more complex than a design challenge about establishing a morning routine for a family.

If we look at the example on challenge card x, we can say the complexity of the underlying structure is rather low, as it is only about the time schedule of one person. If the challenge would be about the morning routine of a household, the challenge would become more complex.

Even more complex would be a challenge in which we want to find solutions in the way schools are organised to suit the needs of families with different schedules.

DESIGN THINKING IN EDUCATION Recently, design thinking is being introduced in schools. This is done on two levels: the organisational level and the classroom level.

Time needed: 20 minutes

Organisational Level

On the organisational level, teacher design teams are formed to find creative solutions for different challenges in the school.

Examples of challenges are: how to reduce the amount of traffic around the school, how to stop bullying, how to use smartphones in the school in a positive way, or how to incorporate a topic like citizenship into the curriculum.

Design Thinking for Teachers

Design Thinking focuses on combining thinking with doing.

A design thinking process is therefore a very tangible and pragmatic approach to innovation, where insights and results are documented and communicated in a way that is easily understood and shared in a design team and communicated outside the team.

With schools needing to adapt rapidly to the changing society and shifting educational needs, design thinking seems to be a good way for teachers to redesign their schools organisational and educational activities.


1. How would you use design thinking in your school?

2. Do you already have ideas about design challenges you would like to solve?

3. Have you recently worked on a problem or theme for which design thinking would have been an interesting approach?

Classroom Level

On the classroom level, learners are challenged to find creative solutions for different challenges.

This can be challenges in their own classroom or school (like bullying or too much noise during the individual working time) or challenges that are aimed at learning a specific part of the curriculum in a different, more active way.

Examples of these latter problems include designing a house of the future, finding a solution for the traffic problem in the city, designing a game to learn about fractions, or finding ways to diminish food waste.

Design Thinking for Pupils

Design thinking involves pupils more extensively in the planning and execution of teaching and learning.

By bringing more meaningful and real-life problem solving into the classroom, pupils will be more engaged and teaching can become more collaborative and interesting for pupils.

The design thinking method also contributes to the development of important 21st century skills, on which education is focusing more and more, like creativity, critical thinking, information processing, communication and collaboration.

Why Use Design Thinking? 3 Reasons Design thinking is a step-by-step way to structure creative problem solving and develop creative ideas and tangible solutions.

Design thinking can be used to solve all kinds of everyday problems and to look at these problems in a positive way by calling them ‘design challenges’.

In other words: design challenges are problems or challenges that can be solved by using design thinking methods.

Time needed: 20 minutes

Everyone can be a designer. By using the design thinking methods, everyone can be creative and find good solutions to design challenges.

There is no such thing as ‘the’ solution. For every design challenge, different design teams will come up with different solutions than can all be good solutions for the given challenge.

It is important to leave beaten paths, experiment and be creative... in order to find the most optimal solutions for a challenge.

Design thinking provides teachers with a set of powerful tools to kickstart their problem solving in teams.

Teacher teams are often an amalgam of very different personalities with strong opinions, making it difficult to find solutions supported by the whole team. The methods can help to find unexpected solutions that the team really found together, without anyone having to compromise.

Teacher design teams have proven to be very powerful, not only in the professionalisation of teachers, but also in the successful implementation of educational innovation. However, teacher design teams need support during the design process in order to improve the quality of the design outcomes.

The FUTE method and FUTE cards could provide such support.

Design thinking is being used more and more in a myriad of organisations as they are being 34 confronted with open and complex problems in modern society.

First, it is a benefit for pupils when they get familiar with these methods and ways of thinking as it prepares them for the challenges they will be working on in their professional lives.

Second, design thinking provides an active way of constructing knowledge, engaging pupils in their learning .

Third, design thinking is very good for training 21st century skills such as creative and critical thinking, communication, and collaboration. Of course, design thinking will also foster these competencies in teachers when they use the methods.


  1. Is design thinking a good approach for the pupils and subject you teach?

  2. Which benefits appeal to you most with respect to the pupils and subjects you teach?

THE FUTE MODEL The FUTE research project has resulted in a model and a set of method cards, specifically fit for educational purposes. The following figure shows the FUTE model for design thinking in schools.

Time needed: 20 minutes


During the research step, we want to produce knowledge about what already exists, and we want to do this in an active way, by experiencing.

This means that we gather information in different ways, like doing interviews or observations, …


During the create step, we try to produce new knowledge and we do this by doing, which means that in this step the solution for the challenge is created in the form of a tangible product.

In other words, during this step we create a solution for the design challenge.


During the ideate step, we want to produce knowledge or ideas about what could be and we do this by thinking.

In other words: we try to come up with new ideas and solutions for our challenge.


During the analyse step, we want to process knowledge about what already exists, but now by thinking.

This means that we analyse and synthesize what we learned during the research step, for example by categorising the answers our interviewees gave.


The process step is in the middle of the model as we can use this step during and after each of the design steps.

The process steps are designed to support the design process in various ways.

The collaboration cards aim at supporting the collaboration process, for example by setting team rules or exploring the specific talents of the team members.

The framing cards help framing the problem, or dividing the problem in smaller more manageable problems.

The communication cards provide ways of communicating the design problems inside and outside the design team.

About the FUTE model

The model is cyclic in nature, meaning that one can go through it multiple times to find the best design for the design challenge at hand.

It is not a linear process, which means you can shift back and forward between steps as needed.

The model is set up on two axes, making four categories of design activities, with process activities in the middle of the axes.


Browse through the method cards.

Are they familiar to you? Have you used any of these methods already?

The power of design thinking: Baby incubators in Uganda About 15% of babies in Uganda is born prematurely. Because not many incubators were available in Uganda, many of these baby died. Charity provided many incubators for the hospitals and baby mortality decreased. However, a few years later mortality numbers increased again. How was that possible?

A design thinking company, Design That Matters, found out that without regular maintenance, incubators did not work properly anymore and that the broken incubators were not repaired because no one was familiar with the modern technology.

The company found a solution to this problem by looking at what the technicians in Uganda were used to repairing. Uganda technicians turned out to be very well at repairing cars.

The solution was hence simple: design incubators made from car parts! Baby mortality decreased again as broken incubators were quickly repaired with parts that were widely available in Uganda.

Source: Design your city

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