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Design Thinking in Student Affairs: A Primer constitutes such an important and timely contribution to the literature. By focusing equally on the theory, mindset, and practice of design thinking, the book fills a gap by providing a roadmap for theoretically informed practice and culture change. Authored by trusted colleagues with expertise in leadership, innovation, assessment, storytelling, equity, organizational development, change management, and student success in both Canada and the United States—the book makes a compelling case for using design thinking to facilitate human-centered, cocreated, high-impact solutions within and beyond the traditional realm of student affairs.

Given the unprecedented combination of new and exacerbated challenges facing our colleges and universities—decreasing government funding, student mental health and well-being, diversity and inclusion efforts, and affordability chief among them—who among us doesn’t need another arrow in their quiver?”—From the Foreword by Janet Morrison, President and Vice Chancellor of Sheridan College, Ontario, Canada

Design thinking is an innovative problem-solving framework. This introduction is the first book to apply its methodology to student affairs and, in doing so, points the way to its potentially wider value to higher education as a whole.

With its focus on empathy, which is the need to thoroughly understand users’ experiences, design thinking is user-centered, similar to how student affairs is student-centered. Because the focus of design thinking is to design with users, not for users, it aligns well with student affairs practice. In addition, its focus on empathy makes design thinking a more equitable approach to problem-solving than other methods because all users’ experiences—not just the experiences of majority or “average” student—need to be understood. Centering empathy in problem-solving processes can be a tool to disrupt higher education systems and practices.

Design thinking is a framework to foster innovation, and, by its nature, innovation is about responding to change factors with creativity. In an organization, design thinking is inherently connected to organizational change and culture because the process is really about changing people to help them rally around a disruptive idea. Implementing design thinking on a campus may in itself be disruptive and require a change management process. The beauty of using design thinking is that it can also act as a framework to support organizational culture change.

Design thinking approaches, with their focus on stakeholder needs (as opposed to systemic norms), collaborative solutions building, and structured empathy activities can offer a concrete tool to disrupt harmful systems of power and oppression. Design thinking as a process is not a magic solution to equity problems, though it can be a powerful tool to approach the development of solutions that can address inequity. Design thinking is data-driven and considers both qualitative and quantitative data as necessary to gain most complete picture of an issue and its possible solutions, whether a product, program, or service.

Design thinking has numerous benefits to afford students affairs. Chapter 1 outlines a case for design thinking in student affairs. Chapter 2 discusses a brief history of design thinking, noting its germination and evolution to current practice. Chapter 3 provides a detailed description of each step of the design thinking model with pertinent examples to make the steps clearer. Chapter 4 explains the intersection of equity and design thinking while chapter 5 explores the use of design thinking for organizational change. Chapter 6 presents a new model for design thinking assessment. Chapter 7 addresses the challenges and limitations of the process. Chapter 8 concludes the book by discussing the alignment of design thinking and student affairs and outlining next steps.

Design thinking is an innovative process that can change the way higher education and student affairs operates, realizing the potential it offers. 

ForewordJanet Morrison



1) The Case for Design Thinking in Higher Education and Student Affairs

2) Design Thinking: A Brief History

3) Design Thinking Model

4) Equity and Design Thinking

5) Designing for Organizational Change

6) Design Thinking Assessment: Application of Design Thinking to Student Affairs Assessment

7) Discussion of Challenges and Limitations

8) Pulling the PIeces Together: Alignment of Design Thinking and Student Affairs


About the Authors


Professioneel en technisch
23 september
Stylus Publishing, LLC