Center for Design Thinking provides stimulating space for creative visioning and inclusive exploration 

The Center for Design Thinking offered more than 50 course workshops during fall 2019, becoming a hub for students and faculty with diverse disciplines, backgrounds and courses of study.

Experiential learning is a core part of the Elon University experience, and — offering more than 50 course workshops during fall 2019 — the Center for Design Thinking is becoming a hub for students and faculty with diverse disciplines, backgrounds and courses of study because the approach has such wide-ranging benefits.

A Way to Visualize and Prototype Multiple Paths

Paula Patch is a senior lecturer in English who also serves as the assistant director for the Elon Core Curriculum for first-year initiatives. She described the Center for Design Thinking as being particularly helpful in the Elon 101 classes she teaches to first-year students in their first semester.

“Design thinking allows students to understand and picture their goals for the rest of their college career. It gives them a methodology as well as a secure space in which to carry it out,” she said.

Rather than being rigid, the framework of design thinking frees students to take risks with their thinking and come to the realization that “the certainty they need is inside them,” Patch explained. “Once you’ve gone through the design thinking process several times and have seen how it works, you can understand the ways it plays out in other parts of your life.”

Patch said the layout of the Center and the materials available have helped her work through complex problems, and the environment creates a sense of fellowship and equality.

“I love coming to this space because it’s literally wide open,” she said. “You get the sense that anything is possible. Everything feels playful, but you can still get work done.”

The Freedom to Learn by Exploration

Brandon Essary teaches Italian and literature in the World Languages and Cultures Department at Elon. He described design thinking as essential to his teaching approach because he often uses video games on the PlayStation 4 console to help students learn about literature and with language acquisition.

From left, Danielle Lake, director of design thinking and associate professor, and Brandon Essary, associate professor of Italian and associate chair of the Department of World Languages and Cultures

Essary said the design thinking tools built into complex, multi-layered video games are good teaching tools because “there’s no passive learning in video games.” In other words, the player must learn as they go by investigating their environment, interacting with cues, solving puzzles, finding objects and completing various tasks or goals.

No matter what problem you are trying to solve, the Center for Design Thinking offers an environment that stimulates learning and conversation differently than in a classroom setting, Essary said. It’s a valuable resource for students, faculty and staff because everyone leaves the Center with useful ideas they can begin implementing in their daily lives.

“You can come in [to the Center] from any point of view and take something beneficial away from it,” said Essary. “Design thinking guides you to explore, think and make mistakes until you figure out a solution or a variety of solutions.”

The Center for Design Thinking is available to everyone in the Elon community, not only students or instructors who specialize in design. Regardless of what problem you’re looking to solve, you are welcome to request a workshop or stop by during walk-in hours, which are Monday to Thursday between 2 and 5 p.m. To learn more or schedule a workshop, email