Design Thinking Through ART-Based Methods

For the last decade, at The Painted Sky, we have been exploring how Arts can galvanise the Training experience. Across 9 countries, for over 100 clients worldwide, our approaches and methods using Art activities as diverse as Painting, Theatre, Music, Model-building and others, have helped participants think differently about problems, break out of comfort zones, communicate and collaborate in new ways, negotiate for better outcomes and explore alternatives and options. And, I dare say, they have worked, if the feedback and responses are anything to go by.

At UBQT, we believe we can leverage our learnings at The Painted Sky and apply the Art-Based methods in our efforts to bring Design Thinking to change lives and businesses everywhere.


Design thinking, or “human-centered design”, is an empowering way to solve problems and design products and solutions by starting with discovery, moving on to ideation and rapid prototyping, then testing, and finally execution. And in many ways, our Art-Based processes that lead participants through Introspection to Ideation to Implementation and Insights follow a parallel path to discovery.

As in the Design Thinking process defined at Stanford University, which begins with developing greater Understanding and Empathy for the User and her challenges, participants in Art activities like Group Painting and Theatre spend time introspecting and discussing to plot the current scenarios to identify the pains and problems at hand. Then, as the Design Thinking process takes off through Problem Definition and on to Ideation through Brain Storming, Art activities enable solution creation through a strong execution focus, putting into practice the thoughts and ideas of participants, to see how they appear outside the head. Finally, similar to the Prototyping and Testing phases, in Art activities, either through the enactment or the debrief, we see how audiences as users experience the ideas and embodiments, and the learnings they draw from there for iteration and possible implementation.

If I draw further parallels to the compacted process popularised by Prof. Jeanne Liedtka, my teacher at the Darden Graduate School of Business at the University of Virginia, the four questions she asks also beautifully link to the Art-Based processes we work with. When she asks “What Is to understand the current scenario and build empathy and understanding, inspires Ideation and Creative Thinking through the “What If and “What Wows questions, and finally helps learners create Prototypes and Test them through the “What Works question, her process maps to the journey we embark on using Art.

The above process links cleanly to the four-step process we follow to experience the Art-Based Learning process:

  1. Introspection to deep dive to understand, to empathise with users, feel their pains and plan representations as solutions.
  2. Communicating ideas to Brain Storm and plan execution, negotiate and agree upon the best way to express ideas.
  3. Execution, either on stage or on canvas or on the modelling table to create Prototypes as representation of the ideas.
  4. Showcase and experience to test the thinking, logic and usability, identify gaps and figure out applications.


Each step above can be linked to the Design Thinking process, Arts activities for reinforce and develop each step better. And through Art activities, participants can try different, unconventional approaches to solve problems through processes impactful, engaging, memorable and fun.

Empathise and Define:

  1. Painting the What Is scenario, understand each other better, communicate.
  2. Theatre – Role playing stakeholders to showcase the situation, the pain points and gaps to understand where to go.

Ideate through BrainStorming:

  1. Painting to BrainStorm the What If. Represent the solutions, the ideal state, the end results.
  2. Theatre – through the powerful Forum Theatre activity to stimulate future and explore alternatives and options.

Prototype and Test:

  1. Painting the end state to show case What Wows and What Works.
  2. 3D Modelling to create physical prototypes with frugal tools to give an embodiment to the solution.
  3. Theatre – enacting the end state to show the Before – After contrast, for buy in.


The Design Thinking process is the most powerful approach to develop solutions that work. And Arts support and augment that process, making the journey experiential and stimulating. At the end, as we see in our work, participants walk away with greater learning and understanding, feeling enriched and empowered and also with possible solutions that map to the problems. 


UBQT. Design Thinking solutions in everything.

One thought on “Design Thinking Through ART-Based Methods

  1. Pingback: Art-Based Learning Implementation Strategies | The Learning Renaissance

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