Design Thinking Research Process

Each topic is to be researched following the specific form of inquiry that we are calling Design Thinking. This means first and foremost that you must have an understanding of the context in which the topic person, movement or innovation occurred. We call this context Zeitgeist. This spirit of time and place context will reveal many individual facts, inspirations and reasons that had some kind of influence on the person, movement or innovation—why and when it occurred when it did. Your research assignment is always to sift through as many of those influences as you can identify, form a thesis or theory about which of those influences were the most important, and then seek to prove that theory in your presentation or paper.

Each topic is introduced in class with a powerpoint, other images and several (but not all) of the influences that are important to each. It is important to remember that these are introductions and examples only. You will need to look deeper to form a successful and meaningful research paper/presentation.

Our first topic is about Gutenberg, so I am using it as an example (below) of how to apply this design thinking process. You can then use this as a model to frame your research/investigation on Gutenberg as well as all future topic/assignments.


  • Topic:
    • Johannes Gutenberg
  • Context/Zeitgeist Influences:
    • time period: late Medieval/early Renaissance—Incunabula
    • geographic location: Mainz, Germany
    • belief: medieval Catholicism, Ars moriendi, spiritualism, mysticism
    • political system: royalty and land owning gentry, loyalty to city states more important than to any country
    • economic system: feudalism + freemen, craft guilds
    • social system: class divisions (peasants/serfs, knights, nobility, freemen, royalty, clergy)
    • technology: man power, horse power, mechanical
    • education: beginnings of the university, low literacy rates
    • ruling power: royalty and the catholic church in Rome
    • family/personal traits, skills, interests, strengths/weaknesses: metalsmith, freeman, foundry work, gold smith, mirror making
  • Research Question or Thesis Statement:
    • From your research and understanding of the Zeitgeist influences, form a question/statement which your presentation/paper will give evidence or proof that you thesis is a sound one. example: Without Gutenberg’s innovation of printing successfully from moveable type, the Protestant Reformation would not have happened when it did. 
  • Paper/Presentation:
    • Prioritize the main influences that you feel are most important
    • Logically present these as points of fact and in an order that leads us to believe your thesis is sound and reasonable.
    • Develop this similar to the way a lawyer might present evidence in a court of law.
  • Conclusion:
    • Sum up your main points
    • Repeat your thesis statement