Skip to content
BY 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter Open Access September 10, 2019

When Students Design University: a Case Study of Creative Interdisciplinarity between Design Thinking and Humanities

  • Alessandra Molinari EMAIL logo and Andrea Alessandro Gasparini
From the journal Open Education Studies


This paper addresses the issue of how to enhance student participation in university governance. This issue is approached by taking into account the growing pressures of the European Commission’s modernization agenda on the educational policies of the European Higher Education Area, and by focusing on the way these pressures affect students’ conceptions of themselves and of the mission of higher education. The thesis presented in this paper is that design thinking and the humanities share a common epistemological core that enables them, if applied in educational settings, to play a major role in fostering students’ trust in their governance skills and in their ability to influence educational policies through a creative mindset and a deeper comprehension of the stakes in present-day higher education. An experimental workshop combining design thinking with the humanities and with the constructivist approach of student-centered learning was held within a course in a humanities bachelor program on the basis of a heuristic framework developed through an interdisciplinary research process. This process was conducted according to the principles of design and hermeneutics. The outcomes of the workshop in terms of the participants’ enhanced self-confidence and decisional skills validate the thesis of this study.


Almendra, R. & Christiaans, H. (2013). ‘Design thinking’: the Emperor’s new suit. Design Principles and Practices: An International Journal: Annual Review. Volume 6. Champain, Illinois: Common Ground, 1-19. in Google Scholar

Ast, F. (1808). Grundlinien der Grammatik, Hermeneutik und Kritik. Landshut: Jos. Thomann.Search in Google Scholar

Battarbee, K., Fulton Suri, J. & Gibbs Howard, S. (2015). Empathy on the edge. Scaling and sustaining a human-centered approach in the evolving practice of design. Case Study. Harvard Business Review.Search in Google Scholar

Barsalou, L.W. (2017). Define design thinking. she ji The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation 3 (2), pp. 102-105. in Google Scholar

Boden, M. A. (2004). The creative mind: Myths and mechanisms, London: Routledge.10.4324/9780203508527Search in Google Scholar

Bracco, M. (2005). Empatia e neuroni specchio. Una riflessione fenomenologica ed etica. Comprendre, 15, 33-53. Retrieved from in Google Scholar

Braun, E., Moreland, J., Sanders, E. & Gill, C. (2014). Designer in design thinking. International Conference on Engineering and Product Design Education. 4 & 5 September 2014, University of Twente, The Netherlands.Search in Google Scholar

Brauer, J. (2013). Empathie und historische Alteritätserfahrung, in: Brauer, J. & Lücke, M. (Hg.) (2013). Emotionen, Geschichte und historisches Lernen. Geschichtsdidaktische und Geschichtskulturelle Perspektiven. Göttingen: V&R Unipress, 75-92.Search in Google Scholar

Bremer, K. & Wirth, U. (2010). Die philologische Frage. Kulturwissenschaftliche Perspektiven auf die Theoriegeschichte der Philologie. In: Texte zur modernen Philologie. Hg. von K. Bremer und U. Wirth. Stuttgart: Reclam, 2010, S. 10-47.Search in Google Scholar

Brown, T. (2008). Design thinking. Harvard Business Review, June, 84-92.Search in Google Scholar

Brown, T. (2009). Change by design. New York: HarperCollins.Search in Google Scholar

Buchanan, R. (1992). Wicked problems in design thinking. Design Issues, 8 (2), pp. 5-21.10.2307/1511637Search in Google Scholar

Burdick, A. & Willis, H. (2011). Digital learning, digital scholarship and design thinking. Design Studies, 32, pp. 546-556. doi:10.1016/j.destud.2011.07.00510.1016/j.destud.2011.07.005Search in Google Scholar

Callahan, E. (2018) Cross-Cultural Empathy: Learning About Diverse Users in Design Thinking Process. In: Stephanidis C. (eds) HCI International 2018 – Posters' Extended Abstracts. HCI 2018. Communications in Computer and Information Science, vol 850. Springer, Cham, pp. 236-240. DOI in Google Scholar

Camacho, M. (2018). An integrative model of design thinking. 21st DMI: Academic Design Management Conference. Next Wave, London, UK, 1-2 August, 2018, 627-641.Search in Google Scholar

Canfora, L. (2008). Filologia e libertà. La più eversiva delle discipline, l’indipendenza di pensiero e il diritto alla verità. Milano: Mondadori.Search in Google Scholar

Coyne, R. & Snodgrass, A. (1991). Is designing mysterious? Challenging the dual knowledge thesis. Design Studies 12 (3), pp. 124-131.10.1016/0142-694X(91)90020-WSearch in Google Scholar

Cropley, A. (2006). In Praise of Convergent Thinking. Creativity Research Journal, 18(3), 391–404. in Google Scholar

Cross, N. (2001). Designerly ways of knowing: design discipline versus design science. Design Issues, 17 (3), pp. 49-55.10.1162/074793601750357196Search in Google Scholar

Culén, A. L. & Gasparini, A. A. (2019). STEAM education: Why learn design thinking? In: Babaci-Wilhite, Z. (ed.). Promoting language and STEAM as human rights in education: science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics, Singapore: Springer Nature, pp. 91-118.Search in Google Scholar

CUN (2017). Guida alla scrittura degli ordinamenti didattici (A.A. 18/19). 09 novembre 2017 (versione aggiornata al 15 dicembre 2017).Search in Google Scholar

Dewey, J. (1929). The quest for certainty: a study of the relation of knowledge and action. New York: Minton, Balch & Company.Search in Google Scholar

Diethelm, J. (2016). De-colonizing design thinking. she ji The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation, 2 (2), pp. 166-172.10.1016/j.sheji.2016.08.001Search in Google Scholar

Diethelm, J. (2017). Embodied design thinking. Pp. 1-14. Retrieved from in Google Scholar

Dorst, K. (2006). Design problems and design paradoxes. Design Issues, 22(3), 4-17.10.1162/desi.2006.22.3.4Search in Google Scholar

Dorst, K. (2011). The core of ‘design thinking’ and its application. Design Studies, 32, pp. 521-532.10.1016/j.destud.2011.07.006Search in Google Scholar

Dilthey, W. (1900). Die Entstehung der Hermeneutik. In G. Misch (Hg.) (1924) Wilhelm Diltheys Gesammelte Schriften. V. Bd.: Die Geistige Welt. Einleitung in die Philosophie des Lebens. Erste Hälfte: Abhandlungen zur Grundlegung der Geisteswissenschaften. Berlin: B. G. Teubner.Search in Google Scholar

Dym, C. L., Agogino, A. M., Eris, O., Frey, D. D. & Leifer, L. J. (2005). Engineering design thinking, teaching, and learning. Journal of Engineering Education, pp. 103-120.10.1002/j.2168-9830.2005.tb00832.xSearch in Google Scholar

ECTS Users’ Guide (2015). Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union. doi:10.2766/87192Search in Google Scholar

EHEA (2018). Paris Communiqué, Appendix III. Retrieved From in Google Scholar

ESG (2015). Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance in the European Higher Education Area. Brussel, Belgium. Retrieved from in Google Scholar

ESU (2015). Bologna with students’ eyes. Overview on student-centred learning in higher education in Europe. Research study by European Students’ Union. Brussels. Retrieved from in Google Scholar

ESU (2018). Bologna with students’ eyes. The final countdown. By European Students’ Union. Retrieved from in Google Scholar

Frodeman, R. & Mitcham, C. (2007). New directions in interdisciplinarity: broad, deep, and critical. Bullettin of Science, Technology & Society 27 (6), 506-514. in Google Scholar

Gasparini, A. A, (2014). The value of empathy in Design Thinking. In: Innovation in HCI: What can we learn from Design Thinking? Workshop. In conjunction with NORDICHI 2014, Helsinki, Finland.Search in Google Scholar

Gasparini, A. A. (2015). Perspective and use of empathy in Design Thinking. In L. Miller & A. Culén (eds.), ACHI 2015: The Eighth International Conference on Advances in Computer-Human Interactions. February 22 - 27, Lisbon, Portugal. Wilmington, DE: IARIA, pp. 49-54.Search in Google Scholar

Gasparini, A. A. & Culén, A. L. (2017). Temporality and innovation in digital humanities: the case of papyri from Tebtunis. Interaction Design and Architecture(s) Journal, 34, pp. 161-184.10.55612/s-5002-034-008Search in Google Scholar

Goldschmidt, G. (2017). Design thinking: a method or a gateway into design cognition? she ji. The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation, 3 (2), pp. 107-112.10.1016/j.sheji.2017.10.009Search in Google Scholar

Harmsen, R. (2015) Future Scenarios for the European Higher Education Area: Exploring the Possibilities of “Experimentalist Governance”. In: Curaj A., Matei L., Pricopie R., Salmi J. & Scott P. (eds). The European Higher Education Area. Springer, Cham10.1007/978-3-319-20877-0_48Search in Google Scholar

Haeffner, G. (2005): Philosophische Anthropologie. 4., überarbeitete und ergänzte Auflage. Stuttgart; Berlin; Köln: Kohlhammer.Search in Google Scholar

Henriksen, D. (2017). Creating STEAM with design thinking: beyond STEM and arts integration. The STEAM Journal, 3 (1), article 11. DOI: 10.5642/steam.20170301.1110.5642/steam.20170301.11Search in Google Scholar

Henriksen, D., Richardson, C. & Mehta, R. (2017). Design thinking: a creative approach to educational problems of practice. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 26, pp. 140-153. in Google Scholar

Illeris, K. (2018). An overview of the history of learning theory. European Journal of Education, 53, 86–101. DOI: 10.1111/ejed.1226510.1111/ejed.12265Search in Google Scholar

Jacob, J. (2018). Intersections in design thinking and art thinking: towards interdisciplinary innovation. Creativity. Theories – Research – Applications, 5(1), 4-25.10.1515/ctra-2018-0001Search in Google Scholar

Jansen, E. & Goedhart, M. (2010). (Inter)disciplinary Dublin descriptors? Implementation of the Bologna process in a Dutch university. Interdisciplinary Higher Education: Perspectives and Practicalities. International Perspectives on Higher Education Research, 5, 115-131.10.1108/S1479-3628(2010)0000005009Search in Google Scholar

Johansson-Sköldberg, U., Woodilla, J. & Çetinkaya, M. (2013). Design Thinking: Past, Present and Possible Futures. Creativity and Innovation Management, 22 (2), pp. 121-146.10.1111/caim.12023Search in Google Scholar

Kelley, T, & Kelley, D. (2013). Creative confidence. Unleashing the creative potential within us all. New York: Crown Business.Search in Google Scholar

Kimbell, L. (2011). Rethinking design thinking: part one. Design and Culture, 3 (3), pp 285–306.10.2752/175470811X13071166525216Search in Google Scholar

Kimbell, L. (2012). Rethinking design thinking: part two. Design and Culture, 4 (2), pp. 129-148.10.2752/175470812X13281948975413Search in Google Scholar

Klemenčič, M. (2012), The changing conceptions of student participation in HE governance in the EHEA. In A. Curaj, Sir P. Scott, L. Vlasceanu & L. Wilson (eds.) European higher education at the crossroads – between the Bologna Process and national reforms, Heidelberg: Springer, pp. 631-653.10.1007/978-94-007-3937-6_34Search in Google Scholar

Klemenčič, M. (2015). Student involvement in quality enhancement, in: J. Huisman, H. De Boer, D. Dill & M. Souto-Otero (Eds). The handbook of Higher Education policy and governance, London: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 526-543.Search in Google Scholar

Klemenčič, M. (2017). From student engagement to student agency: conceptual considerations of European policies on student-centered learning in higher education. Special issue: Critical and alternative perspectives on student engagement, eds. Bruce Macfarlane and Michael Tomlinson. Higher Education Policy, 30 (1), pp. 69–85.10.1057/s41307-016-0034-4Search in Google Scholar

Koh, J. H. L., Chai, C.S., Wong, B. & Hong, H. Y. (2015). Design thinking for education. Conceptions and applications in teaching and learning. Singapore: Springer.Search in Google Scholar

Kolko, J. (2015). Design Thinking Comes of Age. Harvard Business Review, 93(5), pp. 66-71. Retrieved from in Google Scholar

Köppen, E. & Meinel, C. (2015). Empathy via design thinking: creation of sense and knowledge. In: Plattner, H., Meinel, C. & Leifer, L. (eds.). Design thinking research - building innovators. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer, pp. 15-28. in Google Scholar

Kurokava, T. (2013). Design thinking education at universities and graduate schools. Quarterly Review, 46, pp. 50-62.Search in Google Scholar

Liddel, H.G. & Scott, R. (1901). A Greek-English Lexicon. Eighth edition, revised throughout. New York et al.: American Book Company.Search in Google Scholar

Liedtka, J. (2015). Perspective: Linking Design Thinking with Innovation Outcomes through Cognitive Bias Reduction. The Journal of Product Innovation Management, 32 (6), 925-938.10.1111/jpim.12163Search in Google Scholar

Lindgaard, K. & Wesselius, H. (2017). Once more, with feeling: design thinking and embodied cognition. she ji The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation, 3 (2), pp. 83-92.10.1016/j.sheji.2017.05.004Search in Google Scholar

Lipka, L. (2002). English lexicology. Lexical structure, word semantics and word-formation. Tübingen: Narr.Search in Google Scholar

Lor, R. (2017). Design thinking in education: a critical review of literature. IACSSM; ACEP, Conference Proceedings, Bangkok, Thailand, Mai 24-26, 2107, pp. 36-68.Search in Google Scholar

Lyons, J. (1977). Semantics. Volume 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Meffert, H., Gazzola, V., den Boer, J. A., Bartels, A. A. J., & Keysers, C., (2013). Reduced spontaneous but relatively normal deliberate vicarious representations in psychopathy. Brain, 136 (8), pp. 2550-2562.10.1093/brain/awt190Search in Google Scholar

Montanari, F. (2013), Vocabolario della lingua greca. Con la collaborazione di Ivan Galofaro e Daniela Manetti. Terza edizione. Torino: Loescher.Search in Google Scholar

New, S. & Kimbell, L. (2013). Chimps, designers, consultants and empathy: a “theory of mind” for service design. 2nd Cambridge Academic Design Management Conference, 4 – 5 September 2013, pp. 1-14. Retrieved from in Google Scholar

Norman, D. (2013). The design of everyday things. Revised and expanded edition. NY: Basic Books.Search in Google Scholar

Noweski, C., Scheer, A., Büttner, N., von Thienen, J., Erdmann, J. & Meinel, C. (2012). Towards a paradigm shift in education practice: developing twenty-first century skills with design thinking. In: H. Plattner, C. Meinel & L. Leifer (eds.). Design thinking research – measuring performance in context. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer, pp. 71-94. in Google Scholar

Nowak, M. (2011). The Complicated History of Einfühlung. Argument: Biannual Philosophical Journal, 1 (2), pp. 301-326.Search in Google Scholar

Nussbaum, M. (2001). Upheavals of thought. The intelligence of emotions, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.10.1017/CBO9780511840715Search in Google Scholar

Nussbaum, M. (2011). Creating capabilities: the human development approach. Cambridge (MA) et al.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.10.4159/harvard.9780674061200Search in Google Scholar

Owen, C. (2007). Design thinking: notes on its nature and use. Design Research Quarterly, 2, pp. 16-27.Search in Google Scholar

Peels, R. (2018). Epistemic values in the humanities and in the sciences. History of Humanities, 3 (1), pp. 89-111.10.1086/696304Search in Google Scholar

Pollock, S. (2016). Philology and freedom. Philological Encounters, 1, 14-30. Retrieved from in Google Scholar

Poser, H. (2012). Wissenschaftstheorie. Eine philosophische Einführung. Zweite, überarbeite und erweiterte Auflage. Stuttgart: Reclam.Search in Google Scholar

Poulsen, S. B. & Thøgersen, U. (2011). Embodied design thinking: a phenomenological perspective, CoDesign, 7 (1), pp. 29-44, DOI: 10.1080/15710882.2011.56331310.1080/15710882.2011.563313Search in Google Scholar

QF-EHEA 2005 (February 2005). A Framework for Qualifications of the European Higher Education Area. Bologna Working Group on Qualifications Frameworks. Copenhagen: Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation. Retrieved from in Google Scholar

Rapporto ANVUR, 23/2017: Accreditamento periodico delle Sedi e dei Corsi di Studio: Università degli Studi di Urbino “Carlo Bo”. Approvato dal Consiglio Direttivo il 05/09/2017. Doc. 23/2017.Retrieved from in Google Scholar

Rauth, I., Köppen, E., Jobst, B., & Meinel, C. (2010). Design Thinking: An Educational Model towards Creative Confidence. In T. Toshiharu & Y. Nagai (eds.), Proceedings of the 1st International Conference on Design Creativity (ICDC 2010), 29 November – 1 December 2010, Kobe, Japan. Retrieved from in Google Scholar

Razzouk, R. & Shute, V. (2012), What is design thinking and why is it important? Review of Educational Research 82 (3), pp. 330-348.Search in Google Scholar

Recalcati, M. (2018). Ritratti del desiderio. Milano: Raffaello Cortina Editore.Search in Google Scholar

Schön, D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: how professionals think in action. New York: Basic Books.Search in Google Scholar

Schwindt, J. P. (Hg.) (2009). Was ist eine philologische Frage? Beiträge zur Erkundung einer theoretischen Einstellung. Berlin: Suhrkamp.Search in Google Scholar

Schwindt, J. P. (2017). Die Theorie der Philologie. Geschichte der Germanistik: Historische Zeitschrift für die Philologien. Hg. von C. König und M. Lepper. Doppelheft 51/52, pp. 74-82.Search in Google Scholar

Sin, C. (2015). Teaching and learning: a journey (in The European Higher Education Area 2015)10.1007/978-3-319-20877-0_22Search in Google Scholar

Statuto dell’Università degli Studi di Urbino Carlo Bo (2018). Testo in vigore dal 30 novembre 2018. Retrieved from in Google Scholar

Sternberg, R. J. & Lubart, T.I. (1999). The concept of creativity. Prospects and paradigms. In: Handbook of creativity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 3-15.Search in Google Scholar

Szostak, R. (2003), “Comprehensive” curricular reform: providing students with a map of the scholarly enterprise. Journal of General Education, 52 (1), pp. 27-49.Search in Google Scholar

Szostak, R. (2017), Interdisciplinary research as a creative design process, in F. Darbellay, Z. Moody & T. Lubart (eds.), Creativity, Design Thinking and Interdisciplinarity. Singapore: Springer Nature, pp. 17-34.10.1007/978-981-10-7524-7_2Search in Google Scholar

Szostak, R. (2019). Manifesto of interdisciplinarity. Retrieved from in Google Scholar

Suárez, I. C. & Suárez, L.V. (2005). The impact of the Bologna process on disciplinization. Comparative report. Retrieved from in Google Scholar

Tschimmel, L., Santos, J., Loyens, D., Jacinto, A., Monteiro, R. & Valença, M. (2015). Research report d-Think. Design thinking applied to education and training. ERASMUS+ KA 2 Strategic Partnerships. Matosinhos: ESAD.Search in Google Scholar

Tschimmel, K. & Santos, J. (2018), Design thinking applied in higher education: D-Think, a European project for innovating educational systems, in: Carmo, M. (ed.), Education and New Developments 2018Proceedings of the National Conference on Education and New Developments (END 2018), organized by the World Institute for Advanced Research and Science (WIARS). Lisboa: inScience Press, pp. 209-213.Search in Google Scholar

Verganti, R. (2016). Overcrowded. Designing meaningful products in a world awash with ideas. Cambridge (MA), London (UK): The MIT Press.Search in Google Scholar

Vetlesen, A. J. (1994). Perception, empathy, and judgment. An inquiry into the preconditions of moral performance. University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press.Search in Google Scholar

Withell, A. & Haigh, N. (2013). Developing design thinking expertise in higher education. CUMULUS 2013. 2nd International Conference for Design Education Researchers Oslo, 14–17 May 2013. Retrieved from in Google Scholar

Wolf, J. (2012). Kontinuität und Wandel der Philologien. Textarchäologische Studien zur Entstehung der Romanischen Philologie im 19. Jahrhundert. Tübingen: Narr.Search in Google Scholar

Wrigley, C. & Straker, K. (2017). Design thinking pedagogy: The educational design ladder. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 54 (4), 374-385. DOI: 10.1080/14703297.2015.1108214, pp. 374-385.10.1080/14703297.2015.1108214Search in Google Scholar

Zara, V. & Stefani, E. (2017). Istruzione, Attivazione e Accreditamento dei Corsi di Studio. Novità Introdotte da AVA 2.0 e dal DM 987/2016. Roma: Fondazione CRUI.Search in Google Scholar

Received: 2018-02-28
Accepted: 2019-07-12
Published Online: 2019-09-10

© 2019 Alessandra Molinari et al., published by De Gruyter Open

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Public License.

Downloaded on 7.6.2023 from
Scroll to top button