Design thinking and culture, Part I

Design thinking and culture, Part I

Knowledge Without Borders asserts that teaching young people design thinking is a way to introduce the critical thinking processes crucial to success in education and employment.

The design thinking process is a tool for creating innovative products and services.

Educators and employers agree. For example, the Pratt Institute’s Young Architects program “… demonstrates that classes driven by creativity and design thinking have a significant impact in expanding the minds of young students … [it] doesn’t just give them an introduction to architecture; it helps them hone their problem-solving skills and apply them in all areas …”

How does culture affect the implementation and outcomes of design thinking? Representing Knowledge Without Borders in Istanbul, I witnessed design thinking in action in Kadiköy, a municipality on the Asian side of the Bosphorus Strait. TAK (Tasarim Atölyesi Kadiköy), a collaborative design workshop, partnered with designers, students, entrepreneurs, and neighborhood residents to guide a design thinking process to improve community life.

I observed a creative process that produced new simit food vending carts for the neighborhood. For the first time, venders were able to smoothly negotiate their carts through ancient and narrow streets of Kadiköy.

To be honest, I didn’t think about cultural differences when I observed design thinking in Istanbul. I simply wanted to understand inclusive community decision-making and implementation processes.

Soon I will be moving to Shanghai, China. I have many questions about the design thinking process in east Asian cultures, in particular, China.

I know the practice of design thinking in China is relatively new. Chinese educators encourage design thinking in the classroom. Kids naturally are creative and, according to research-based interviews of design thinking, take to the process.

But deeply embedded cultural practices in China often inhibit the practice of design thinking as children continue beyond elementary schools.

“The kids are like cars but the brakes are holding them, they cannot drive.”  –Trinh Thao

Cultural traditions have an impact on Chinese professionals, as well as students. Though the Chinese are entrepreneurial, there are several challenges to implementing design thinking in China, including the Confucian tradition of collectivism and acceptance of unequal power distribution.

The impact of Chinese culture on design thinking will be explored in Part II.


Karen Collias

My name is Karen Collias and I founded Knowledge Without Borders™ to infuse creativity and innovation into the most salient educational issues affecting global contemporary society. I attribute my enthusiasm to cross the borders of traditional knowledge domains to the multi-disciplinary nature of my education and professional experience. The first in my family to go to college, I have a Ph.D. from Columbia University. My professional experience focuses on interdisciplinary research, teaching, and strategic thinking at a variety of institutions, including Princeton University, the Smithsonian Institution, and the U.S. Department of State. I currently am crossing borders to write about creativity and innovation in education and philanthropy.



  • Terry May 25, at 09:32

    The entire blog is fantastic! Thank you for sharing your knowledge.


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