Design Thinking for Research

Lecturer: Sebastian Kernbach

Modality: In presence

Week 1: 12 - 16 August 2024


Workshop Contents and Objectives

The workshop in a nutshell

This workshop is inspired by our course "Research as design" at Stanford University which also led to our book "Creativity in Research", which is the basis for our workshop (check out:

You will learn new visual tools and techniques to support your analytical and creative skills for your research projects. Through interventions from positive psychology and positive leadership, you will be more aware of the research process, support your emotional well-being and learn how to turn mistakes into new opportunities. You will learn how to use storytelling (telling the story of your PhD) and new presentation formats to communicate your research confidently to various audiences.

We will also take time to tackle the topic of (academic) procrastination with "the science of action", looking into the seven main reasons why people procrastinate, e.g. distractions, overload, perfectionism, and offering seven theory-based and highly-practical strategies to overcome procrastination and become better at turning ideas and thoughts into action.

You will have plenty of time this week to work directly on your PhD, post-doc or other research project; you will benefit from peer-coaching and explore new ways to organise your projects and motivate yourself.

The workshop in a nutshell in this video message from the instructor:

Full workshop description

Participants will have the opportunity to apply design thinking tools and methods to their own research projects, creating prototypes of their research papers, understanding the importance of an iterative process and seeking feedback to further develop their research.

Simply put, design thinking is a method for problem-solving, popularised in the early 1990s by applying it to product design. Since that time, a variety of design thinking approaches have been applied to an ever-increasing range of challenges, including research challenges. Think of it as a constellation of iterative steps and best practices for tackling complexity rather than a specific process.

The at Stanford University has been among the first to teach design thinking to participants from areas such as engineering, medicine, business, law, the humanities, sciences, and education. They define themselves as the hub for innovators at Stanford and are recognized around the world. They were also the first to apply design thinking methods and tools to the research process, and I had the pleasure of working with them at Stanford. This workshop is an extension of the Stanford workshop.

Based on the design thinking framework and mindset established at Stanford, participants will gain creative confidence in their research process and, when facing challenges, problem-solving abilities to better deal with ambiguity using analytical skills and creative intelligence and emotional well-being, which improves productivity when being proactive about emotional needs.

The goal of this workshop is to recognise the creative, playful mindset that underlies successful innovation in scholarship and explore how design thinking can improve the research process to make us more innovative scholars or scientists. And, with this, to increase the ability of researchers to create quality research and a systematic application of creativity in their own research development. Especially because emerging scholars and interdisciplinary researchers need tools, techniques, support, and inspiration to approach their research in an innovative and playful spirit of design.

Participants will explore a variety of design skills and mindsets but focus especially on how being mindful of your own research process, work styles, emotional state, and sometimes-hidden assumptions can help you get "unstuck" when facing research bumps in the road. The instructor seeks to help participants to explore potential solutions to problems in their research efforts.

Participants will be given short input sessions from the instructor and will have time to apply design thinking to their own project(s), giving and getting feedback and improving their research project. 

During this workshop, participants will gain…

  • Creative confidence
    • …with tools, techniques and inspiration for an innovative mindset
    • …to improve their research process
    • …to make themselves more innovative scholars
    • …to “unstuck” in times of research blocks
  • Problem-solving abilities
    • …reflecting, iterating and tolerating ambiguity
    • …refining questions, processes, and methods, viewing setbacks as opportunities for further learning
    • …highlighting the creative process of scholarly research
    • …combining analytical skills and creative intelligence
  • Emotional well-being
    • …being proactive about emotional needs (as it leads to greater productivity)
    • …creating a social-support network (academic, non-academic)
    • …creating a supportive, non-judgmental environment
    • …work in tandems and experience peer-coaching

 Later that week, participants will present their prototypes and iterative developments from throughout the week and will present their research story in new presentation formats, e.g. Pecha Kucha (20 images/slides for 20 seconds each) and/or Lightning Talk (“your research story in 180 seconds”).



No particular prerequisites are required, especially not in terms of being creative or being good at drawing. All you need is a mindset of curiosity, openness and experimentation.

This workshop is designed for participants without previous experience in design thinking (especially those who may have very little idea what “design thinking” even means!).



If you have any questions, please get in contact with the instructor by email: [email protected].


Recommended Reading

  • Adams, J. L. (2001) Conceptual Blockbusting: A Guide To Better Ideas. Designerly Ways of Knowing
  • Amabile, T. M. (1997). Motivating creativity in organizations: On doing what you love and loving what you do. California management review, 40(1), 39-58.
  • Amabile, T. M. (1985). Motivation and creativity: Effects of motivational orientation on creative writers. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 48 (2), 393-399.
  • Beckman, S. L., & Barry, M. (2009). Design and innovation through storytelling. International Journal of Innovation Science, 1(4), 151-160.
  • Beckman, S. L., & Barry, M. (2007). Innovation as a learning process: Embedding design thinking. California Management Review, 50(1), 25-56.
  • Brown, T. (2008). Design thinking. Harvard Business Review, 86(6), 84-92.
  • Brown, T. & Katz, B. (2009). Change by design: How design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation. New York: Harper Business.
  • Craig, L. (1990) A Guide to Increased Creativity in Research- Inspiration or Perspiration? Bioscience, 40, 2, p.123.
  • Cross, N. (2006) Designerly Ways of Knowing,
  • Heinze, T., Shaoira, P., Rogers, J., Senker, J. (2009) Organizational and institutional influences on creativity in scientific research, Research Policy, 38, p. 610-623.
  • Junginger, S. (2007). Learning to design: Giving purpose to heart, hand and mind. Journal of Business Strategy, 28(4), 59-65.
  • McGuire, W. (1997) Creative Hypothesis Generating in Psychology: Some Useful Heuristics, Annual Review in Psychology.
  • Ulibarri, N., Cravens, A. E., Nabergoj, A. S., Kernbach, S., & Royalty, A. (2019). Creativity in research. Cambridge University Press.