Student Work

On this page, explore the many ways in which this step can take shape in assignments.

Ask students to be able to articulate the many pieces of the puzzle they’re entering.

The Define stage lends itself well to using writing prompts, writing to learn, and writing in teams. Any or all of the methods and examples below could happen at various levels of both formality and collaboration.


Source: IDEO’s Design Kit


Another way to “define” is to “frame” using IDEO’s Design Kit.

Adapt or copy IDEO’s worksheet to guide students through their design problem. They could all be pitching to intervene in the same design problem in teams, or each student could be involving themselves in a unique one. Either way, defining the scope of the issue is important.

Source:’s “Design Thinking Bootleg.”

The following example comes from Jason Tham’s article, “Design Thinking in First-Year Composition: Writing Social Innovation into Service-Learning Pedagogy” (2021).

Class topic & context:

“this course was designed to link the goals of service-learning … with the needs of our community partner, Minnehaha Food Shelf. The Minnehaha Food Shelf is a joint initiative by three local churches in south Minneapolis, Minnesota, that provides food for more than 600 people in need who live in the Minnehaha neighborhood. The readings, activities, and assignments that students encounter center on social justice, social change, and social issues specific to the food shelf.” (Tham, 14)

Creating design directives in the form of a design brief:

“Based on their ethnographic experience, students were formed in teams of two to three members to fully engage the design thinking cycle. As they have already begun to empathize with complex social issues, students were asked to produce a design challenge report that specifies a definition of the particular food shelf related issue their team chose to address, their ideation of a viable solution, and a prototype of the model solution. Then, in the second part of the report, students were tasked with testing their prototype and presenting a final version of their recommended solution to the class at the end of the semester.” (15, emphasis mine)


Similar to a design brief (below), design guidelines ask students to begin thinking about how their ideas will work in conjunction with an existing context of issues, people, networks, audiences, and constituents. The Design Guidelines method abbreviates the Design Brief into shorter statements rather than developing a whole presentation and project plan.

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.

WRIT015, Writing & Culture

Spring 2020, Georgetown University

Course Description: “In this section of WRIT 015, we’ll engage in a class-wide, semester-long endeavor aimed at producing innovative and useful media for Georgetown’s Office of Fellowships, Awards, and Resources (GOFAR). 

As opposed to a traditional, instructor-led seminar in writing, we will approach writing as a design exercise in the context of a classroom that prioritizes the production of written material (and other media) through collaboration, client engagement, and critiques in which students, the instructor, and guests provide real-time feedback on work as it emerges…In this section of the course, we’ll focus on one of GOFAR’s communication needs, which is to relate their impact more effectively to campus and beyond.  To do so, we’ll need to consider how we can work to understand, investigate, and initiate solutions to questions about GOFAR’s role on campus; the work it performs on behalf of students, staff, and faculty; and the processes by which GOFAR markets itself, addresses its own clients’ needs, and reports its successes and failures.”


The assignment:

Deliverable (Assignment 3)

By the end of Phase III, each working group will produce a “deliverable” to GOFAR for their use. This deliverable will be a communication artifact designed by each team in response to one question: based on the whole class’s research findings, how can we intervene and make a difference in this set of issues? Because this question is the operative one, each team will take a different approach and will therefore create a deliverable in a different genre. One team might make a series of short videos; another might write and submit, in consultation with GOFAR, an op-ed series for the Voice or the Hoya; another might create a new page for GOFAR’s website.

Every teams’ work, however, should keep in mind that they are working to make a real difference on behalf of the client, GOFAR, and should work accordingly. Please see this rubric for guidelines (pay special attention to page 2).

Please note: grades are not based on GOFAR’s ultimate utilization of the deliverable, though students should produce all content with the assumption that it will be utilized by GOFAR for public use. This means that all work should be produced to the exacting standards that any university would require of a contractor prior to accepting that contractor’s deliverable. At the end of the semester, we will submit everything to GOFAR, and they will make their determinations about what to use. We will work in consultation with them, however, as one does with a client, to maximize the odds of producing usable materials.

Final versions of team deliverables will be submitted in the following format. Each team will make a new folder in their team folder, and title it “Final Project: [your project name].” In this folder, you will include everything that the team collectively submits. Create and share these folders (with editing permission) with me and with Lauren Tuckley of GOFAR.

All submissions will include the following: 1) a project cover sheet, 2) 500 words summarizing the project’s utilization of the research conducted by the class and theory of persuasion (i.e., how did what you make respond to a particular aspect of the research? Why do you think it will work?), 3) tested and revised prototypes of your project (this may be a singular artifact or multiple documents or files). 

  1. The project cover sheet should include the following:
  • A project title 
  • A 1-sentence description, which is catchy and substantive
  • A brief (1 page) summary that…
    • is written in the 3rd person
    • is written to a general audience (not someone who’s been in class with you all semester)
    • includes an introductory paragraph of brief context
    • briefly describes the team process/research/activities
    • describes the product/deliverable
  • A full list of team members and the items enclosed in the rest of the folder
  • Include visuals aspects or photos in order to make this an attractive document that can be shared.

Again, please submit items in your team folder and make sure to share this folder with editing access, rather than simply “view only.” Include links out if necessary. Aim for professional level document design and style.” (Pavesich and Brown, 5).


A design brief can work as the template outline for just about any sort of project where a “pitch” is involved. This falls under the Define step because a design brief, ultimately, defines a particular problem and invites many solutions.

To implement a project like this, most basically, first create your design problem/design brief. Then, build in time for your students to research, present ideas, reiterate, and pitch.

(See: Design Brief | OpenDesignKit)