Education Doctorate

Year Approved


First Advisor

Putz, Matthew


This dissertation investigated how designers, leaders, and clients at a large public research university enacted and perceived the value of design thinking as an approach to solving problems. A review of the literature found interest but little research in how design thinking may help higher education institutions address complex problems. The researcher visited the university, gathered documents, viewed and photographed work spaces used for design thinking, and conducted semi-structured interviews with 16 people at the university. Participants’ responses were recorded and transcribed. The gathered data was analyzed for themes. Participants described enacting design thinking through Design Challenge events, using design thinking as approach to projects, and using design thinking as a flexible framework of activities. They described integrating design thinking practices with other design and change management frameworks. Participants described design thinking as a valuable approach to addressing complex problems they faced, though it was not described as helpful or appropriate in all cases. They also described challenges they faced in using design thinking. The findings of this research provide evidence that supports proposals that design thinking may be a helpful approach to addressing complex problems in higher education.

Degree Name

Education Doctorate

Document Type

Doctoral dissertation