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Role of Critical Thinking in Design Education

 by Shazaman Saiyed, Baskets Manager and Facilitator  at The Design Village (TDV)

 Critical thinking is often perceived as a skill reserved for scholars, intellectuals, and experts in various fields. However, this misconception undermines the true essence of critical thinking, as it is a fundamental ability that benefits every individual, regardless of their profession or academic background.

In the ever-evolving landscape of education, the ability to think critically has emerged as an indispensable skill for students to navigate the challenges of the 21st century. In an increasingly dynamic and competitive world, the realm of design has evolved beyond aesthetics and creativity. Today, design encompasses a multifaceted approach that blends innovation, functionality, and problem-solving. As students embark on their journey to become proficient designers, they must cultivate an essential skill, “critical thinking”.

Thinking strategically, logically, variably and so on could be important traits to define what a good thought may look or feel like. In the design domain, the popular opinion is that there is no competition in the first place. Both are equally valued in their own capacities and relevance. Regardless of how beautiful the thought is, fast or slow, unless it is relevant in the situation, it will fail to leave a mark on the speaker as well as the listener.

Why Think

Empowering Creativity: – In the design discipline, doing or making is often regarded as an important skill. Then there are also craftspeople who demonstrate even better skills to leave the designer in awe. One can continue the debate on whose role it is to produce better results in terms of form, finishing and manufacturability. But one does not know what to do with the outcome since whoever can make it better in appearance must be given higher credit. So, then it is a matter of the designer’s negotiation skills for their position in such dynamics, where they need not be the best in the skill of appearance, but definitely understand the importance of visualizing the solution in various possible scenarios. This requires quite a thought process where the mind is moving between the tide and the drop.

Collaboration and Communication: – In a world that thrives on interdisciplinary collaboration, designers often find themselves working with professionals from various backgrounds. People who do not relate to design, may not be able to critique the aesthetics of a product or solution, but they can definitely critique its purpose, function, and feasibility. In this day and age, it is crucial for the designer to be able to think through all the possible conversations that can take place with colleagues. Critical thinking nurtures designers to express their thoughts clearly, they can engage in fruitful collaborations, leveraging the collective expertise of their teams to create holistic and impactful designs.

How to Think

Creating critical thinking is not easy. Nobody can teach you what and why to think, but they can for sure help you identify the strong and weak points of your thinking patterns. It is an excellent quality to ‘think and do’ simultaneously, though quite often both are in a loop, one after the other. An even greater quality lies in ‘thinking-doing’, where it is possible to think while doing and do while thinking. In the design fraternity, for some it comes naturally, for others, it comes with experience. There are some methods which can help in ‘thinking’.

The Socratic method, one of the oldest forms to stimulate critical thinking, has been very effective in helping one articulate their thoughts and see through the darkness. In this method, one constantly aims at only asking the right kind of questions to another person who is looking to be questioned. There’s no one answer, sometimes there is no answer as well, but what matters most is the movement of the thought in the conversations. This method builds a strong thought process and removes the fear of judgment.

Skepticism is yet another form of inducing critical thinking. Despite knowing some facts, one is able to look away from them and step aside from their internal bias, is where skepticism comes into play. The ability to talk about non-existent things for longer periods of time, helps one to evaluate their own thinking patterns. Simply talking nonsense is also sometimes a crucial part of this, so long as the speaker is aware of what they are saying. This method requires a lot of curiosity, sometimes to the point where one is mentally exhausted.

Rationality, though very often cliched, is crucial to thinking critically. It requires deliberate thought, persistently readjusting the contiguous line between the subjective and the objective mind. The core of rationality is reasoning, and reasoning is the most important act in thinking. This one requires inquisitiveness to the core, otherwise, reasoning will not survive for long.

Likewise, there are hundreds of other methods to improve critical thinking.


Visual, graphical, or any other sensorial skills will change over time, some might even become redundant, but thinking as a skill will remain as long as humans exist. Not even the all-powerful sentient AI can get a hang of it, the closest AI can get is a humanoid, but never become a human. Critical thinking is the bottom line for any person who wants to lead the trends in any discipline.

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