Reflective Thinking Strategies.

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Reflective thinking is meta-cognitive thinking. It enables student designers to examine their working and document their journey of change during the Design Process. It centres around identifying initial conceptions and describing what may have changed and investigating reasons for change in skills and knowledge during the periods of design and presentation. Through reflection, students may reconsider initial understandings of design problems in the brief and re-frame them.

Completing the circle

The VCAA Design Process for Visual Communication Design is shown in a circle. This it to represent the cyclical and iterative nature. Designers work in different ways during the process. Coming up with new ideas is a positive, forward facing activity. Evaluating them requires review of design ideas. Reflection enables students to draw conclusions from their review, evaluate their effectiveness as designer and renew their investigation. Thus completing the circle of design.

The strategies on this page are aimed at making meta-cognition (thinking about thinking) visible and documenting student's process so they can build on their learning and develop and resolve design concepts to meet communication needs.


Finding my way.

Reflective Thinking involves making decisions about future directions to create a pathway towards solving communication needs as defined in a brief. Once one reads through the Reflective Thinking routines below one will realise that many of the Critical Thinking routines on that page end in Reflective Thinking. This is where students analyse their work and then create an action plan. Click back to the Critical Thinking page by pressing the 'Do' link below.

Jump to

For further information on Critical Thinking and the Design Process click on the links at right.

Design Process


Critical Thinking

“I used to think…now I think”



Involves the participant reflecting on and documenting how assumptions changed into knowledge at various stages of the design process. This can be used to inform future work.


Adapted from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Project Zero resource on 'I used to think - Now I think'.

Students create a new page for this reflective thinking technique. Teacher clarifies which stage of the Design Process will be the subject of the reflection. Teacher introduces the following two question prompts;

  1. When you began your Research/ your Generation of Ideas/ Development and Resolution you had some initial ideas on how you could solve the communication need. Write down a couple of sentences to describe your initial understanding and some elements you thought would be important in a successful design solution. Start your paragraph with 'I used to think......'
  2. Now that you have been researching/ generating ideas for some time, consider what has changed in your understanding of the product you are doing? Write a brief description of what understandings have changed. Do you remember when your ideas changed? When was it? What was it your learnt that caused your change and deepened your understanding? Start your paragraph with 'Now I think......'

The results are written up for Reflective Thinking. They can also be shared with the class to build capacity.

Reference i-used-to-think-now-i-think

Guided questions (Gibbs Reflective Cycle)



This set of guided questions is based on the Gibbs Reflective cycle. It is a set of stages of description, explanation, analysis and action for one's own performance. I have adapted it to prompt a series of questions that can be used for detailed Reflective Thinking in VCD.


Students choose a subject for detailed Reflective Thinking. It could be done at the conclusion of each stage of the Design Process, or even after the Pitch in the SAT. They answer a series of questions based on these prompts (adapted from the Gibbs Reflective cycle).

1 Description
Outline and describe what you have done in this stage of the Design Process. Be specific with your description rather than say 'developed my design', explain how you have developed it, what materials, methods and processes have you used?

2 Feelings
Describe how you feel about the work you have done. Has it been a successful, rewarding period of work or frustrating?

3 Evaluation
Explain how effective the work you have done is? Do you think it has brought you closer to solving the communication need/s described in the brief? Did the period of work go as you had planned? Did it take longer or more/ less work than you thought?

4 Analysis
Identify some reasons that might have impacted on your design journey and made it more difficult or involved than you originally thought. Did you have to learn additional skills? Did you have to do some additional research? Did you have to reframe the way your thought about the design problem? Other factors?

5 Conclusion
Identify three skills or understandings you might need to develop to improve your process and refocus your work to ensure that it satisfies all of the constraints in the brief?

6 Action plan
Describe how you will be able to develop the skills or knowledge you identified in the 'conclusion' stage in the next week.


The Gibbs Reflective cycle was found on "". It was originally published in "Learning by Doing" by Graham Gibbs. Published by Oxford Polytechnic, 1988.

Finding links



No design is made in isolation. We all design as part of our history and culture. We are influenced by our knowledge and context. Students can develop their capacity as informed designers by considering where their design sits in relation to the broader world of art and design.


Students create a new page for this Reflective Thinking technique. They then as a class or individually respond to questions such as;

  • How does your design relate to ones from the past?
  • How would your design be changed in the future?
  • How is your design linked with artistic (music, art, literature, etc) styles?
  • How is your design influenced/ is it influenced by another designer or design style movement?
  • Does your design relate to any local Melbourne (your city) design styles?
  • How does your design connect with yours or others's cultures?
  • How well would your design translate to another language?
  • Would your design translate to another design field?
  • How does your design demonstrate influence from any of the social, cultural, economic, environmental, technological, legal factors that shape design?

They write, illustrate and annotate diagrams to explain links they found.


This one is mine, based on Reflective Thinking as defined in VCD Study Design.

Red light, Yellow Light



In a modified version of this routine participants identify biases that may have coloured their design. Red zone = global assumptions, self interest. Yellow-zone = generalisations.


Students create a new page for this Reflective Thinking routine. They then examine commonly held ideas around the designs they are making.

Write down all the ideas that you think apply to the design a student is doing. You may jump back to the R.E.D. Critical Thinking Routine routine to see examples of ideas that are commonly held for designs.

Red Zone = Identify biases shaping design
Write down any biases , evidence of self interest or global generalisations that affect the shape, look or function of the design.

Yellow Zone = Identify an generalisations that have been made.
Write down any generalisations about how the design should look or function you made.

Draw conclusions
Write a statement that acknowledges anything from the red or yellow zone you have identified and how you could overcome them in a more original design.