Special Issue of JBTC

Coeditors: Rebecca Pope-Ruark, Elon University, ; Joe Moses, University of Minnesota, ; Trey Conner, University of South Florida–St. Petersburg, ; and Jason Tham, University of Minnesota, 

Born from the processes of professionals in architecture, industrial and graphic design, engineering, and urban planning, design thinking can be broadly defined as the human-centered, empathy-driven process of imagining, creating, testing, and revising responses to critical, highly contextual, dynamic, and messy problems. This process is often articulated in the five recursive stages—empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test—popularized by the d.school at Stanford University and its corporate offshoot IDEO. It is a way of problem framing and solving that values empathy with audiences and users, radical collaboration, ambiguity, a bias toward action, productive failure, iteration, and regular feedback. In higher education, design-thinking efforts are often connected to entrepreneurship, social innovation (social change, change making, etc.), and civic engagement, with a growing presence in business schools, creative disciplines, and project management approaches such as Scrum.

As process experts, user advocates, and project leaders, technical and professional communicators will encounter design-thinking practices in the workforce. Although design thinking as a term may ultimately become a buzzword for companies making a nod to innovation, the practices and mind-sets connected to design thinking are changing the face of many business and civic enterprises where technical and professional communication (TPC) graduates will work. As such, we invite manuscripts that explore design-thinking approaches in TPC through theory, pedagogy and curriculum, and research and professional practice. Submissions may be theoretical, qualitative, quantitative, or case based and should address one or more of the following questions:


  • How can design-thinking approaches in the classroom and workplace inform core rhetorical concepts such as techne, phronesis, praxis, kairos, metis, and ethos, pathos, and logos? How might the design-thinking process inform our understanding of deliberative rhetorical practice in the classroom, workplace, and community? How might it illuminate the divisions and connections between thinking, making, and doing?
  • What existing theories at work in TPC studies (rhetorical theory, critical theory, variations of genre theories, activity theory, actor-network theory, visual theory, multimedia and multimodal theories) can shed light on different stages of the design-thinking process in TPC classrooms and workplaces?

Pedagogy and curriculum

  • How might design-thinking approaches be combined with existing emphases on (social) entrepreneurship, social innovation, and civic engagement in TPC programs and professional contexts, and to what end? How can or do various common TPC pedagogies—client projects, service learning, case method, internships, undergraduate research, and studio, for example—align the design-thinking emphasis with empathizing with an audience, human-centered design, prototyping, and regular feedback loops?
  • How might the iterative design-thinking process be used in TPC program, course, and cocurricular-experience design, emphasizing empathy for students, experimentation, innovative and entrepreneurial thinking, iteration, collaboration, or feedback loops?
  • How might design-thinking mind-sets such as acceptance of ambiguity, an active pursuit of productive failure, radical collaboration, and a bias toward action be realized in TPC pedagogies to help students understand professional approaches to the complex, dynamic, wicked problems of today’s world?
  • How might pedagogies based on design thinking create spaces for effective university–workplace collaborations as well as for effective colearning and coteaching with programs and organizations that are design, technology, and innovation driven?

Research and professional practice

  • How might an understanding of design-thinking methods empower technical and professional writers to build on their carefully developed competencies in rhetorical practice to advocate for specific audiences and users empathetically?
  • How might attention to play, games, team building, innovation and entrepreneurship, and project-management strategies such as Scrum be combined with aspects of the design-thinking process in professional contexts in order to provide areas of research that would inform our understanding of TPC workplaces and competencies?

Manuscripts should conform to the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association(6th ed.). Manuscripts for article-length studies are typically 25 to 35 double-spaced pages (not counting the References section). Abstracts of 400 to 600 words should indicate the purpose, rationale, and approach of contributions. The deadlines for submission are as follows:

  • Abstract submission deadline: priority deadline October 1, final deadline October 30, 2017
  • Abstracts selected for article development: November 30, 2017
  • Submission of complete articles to be sent out for blind review: March 1, 2018
  • Reviews back to authors (authors notified of acceptance or rejection): June 1, 2018
  • Revised articles submitted to guest editors for final edits and submission to journal: August 1, 2018

Please direct questions or abstracts to the corresponding guest editor, Rebecca Pope-Ruark, at .

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