Design Your Course

On this page, do the process to learn the process.

When it comes to course design, “defining the problem” may seems duplicative of the Secondary Research method in the “Empathize” phase—what differs, here, is that Secondary Research asks you to seek & gather information about your context while the “Define” phase asks you to articulate it. To start, be able to define the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How of your course.

With all of these answers in mind, you can begin developing the course goals to best fit students.

Who are your students? Who attends your institution?

What is this class, and what will they be learning, broadly?

When and Where does this course take place? What’s the broader context?

Why do students take this course?

How will the course be delivered? (Online, in-person, hybrid?)


Source:’s “Design Thinking Bootleg.”


After conducting empathy research and reflection, consider again: who are your students?

And what do you think they ought to learn in your class?

Source: IDEO’s Design Kit


Another way to “define” is to “frame” using IDEO’s Design Kit. The worksheet provided by IDEO guides you through thinking and writing through your course planning as a design problem.

Equate “defining your course” to articulating the big-picture goals. This method reflects Backward Design, a foundational process in teaching.

Definition, by Carrie Leverenz:"Design briefs share some characteristics of typical writing assignments but also differ in important ways. A design brief is the initial description of what the client wants or needs the designer to create, specifying the outcomes of the design—what the design will achieve—but not the design itself, which is what the designer is being hired to provide. Brown (2009) defined a good brief as 'the ideal mix of freedom and constraint' (p. 24). If a client asks a designer to create a product or experience for others, the intended user or audience is one constraint that will be specified. Just as important are constraints like budget and timeline. Most design briefs include competing constraints, specifications that are difficult to meet completely, which is part of what makes designing a wicked problem," (Leverenz, 7). 

Take this example from Carrie Leverenz’s article, “Design Thinking and the Wicked Problem of Teaching Writing” (2014). Leverenz builds her article on the idea that offering writing assignments which center wicked problems gives students the opportunity to explore responses/answers/solutions rather than write to satisfy a rubric:

The assignment:

In “An Inconvenient Tool: Rethink-ing the Role of Slideware in the Writing Classroom,” Laurie E. Gries and Collin Brooke (2010) described how the constraints of having to translate a research project draft into a Pecha Kucha presentation (a slideshow made up of 20 slides each set to automatically advance every 20 seconds) strengthened students’ writing by requiring them to identify and represent only the most important ideas. The constraint posed by having to translate writing into visual representations also led many students to think about their research in new ways (p. 23). As Gries and Brooke explained, “When we ask students to engage in presentation design, many engage in visual thinking, which often triggers creative potential not accessed in print-based composition,” noting the lack of attention to visual thinking in composition. When I required a Pecha Kucha presentation rather than a draft in a recent graduate seminar, students commented that though they found the assignment difficult, it did help them identify a focus for their seminar papers by leading them to a central metaphor or image that represented their argument. Students in a writing class who are asked to translate their ideas into images may initially feel frustrated by having to think differently about their work, but the constraints of the Pecha Kucha-style presentation, created by architects looking for a way to enable people in the design community to share their ideas with a peer audience quickly, make sense.

Design Brief

WRIT015, Spring 2020

Georgetown University

*** I need to ask to make sure I can use this as an example


Design briefs offer a way in which writing teachers can provide constraints (guidelines) while also situating the “writing assignment” as creative, open-ended, and ultimately imperfect.

**The decision to communicate your course as a whole or any singular assignment as a design brief asks you to present a format that is likely unfamiliar to students. Be clear about your expectations, and create a comfortable environment for experimentation (a.k.a. failure, confusion, and potentially frustration).