Design process rubrics: Identifying and enhancing critical thinking in creative problem solving

Presented by: Marlo Ransdell

Background: “Critical thinking is a habit of mind characterized by the comprehensive exploration of issues, ideas, artifacts, and events before accepting or formulating an opinion or conclusion” (AAC&U, 2010b, ¶2). Critical thinking within creative domains is many times difficult to teach and assess. However, CIDA Futures has identified creative and critical thinking skills as paramount for students in design education and professionals embedded within the discipline (CIDA, 2014). While programs seek to teach students critical thinking skills, the delivery and assessment of these are many times difficult to objectively assess. This presentation will explore domain specific research and the pedagogical development of rubrics to assess and evaluate critical thinking in interior design problem solving. Rubrics used in education help assess student work, support student learning, and many times help blur the distinction between assessment of student work and instruction (Andrade, 2000; AAC&U, 2010a). While educational rubrics vary, common features are a list of criteria and gradations of quality with descriptive performance criteria that help instructors and students alike focus on enhancing the development of necessary skills (Andrade, 2000; AAC&U, 2010a; AAC&U 2010b). Methodology: The rubrics presented here were developed within a larger university wide study on critical thinking in domain specific areas. The university adopted the AAC&U VALUE critical thinking rubric in 2015 for a two-year study of critical thinking of students in their last two years of baccalaureate degree programs. The Critical Thinking Assessment Test (CAT) test was administered to rising interior design juniors in the spring of 2015. The CAT was also given to graduating interior design seniors in spring of 2015 to represent a control group for the research method. Based on results of the CAT test scores, interventions were developed to enhance the 5 aspects of critical thinking (explanation, evidence, context, position, and conclusions) for implementation over the following two years of interior design courses. Each of the 15 CAT questions was paired with the five critical thinking aspects in the VALUE rubric. Further, each of the five critical thinking aspects was paired with the commonly accepted stages of the design process. The outcome of the study developed detailed domain specific rubrics to assess and evaluate critical thinking within interior design projects and process. Results and Discussion: This presentation specifically focuses on the adaptation and development of a critical thinking rubric for interior design education and borrows from other rubrics in problem solving, creative thinking, information literacy, inquiry and analysis, and communication skills. It explains the development of explicit and clear descriptions in a common language for students to go from simply understanding new knowledge to applying and generating new knowledge as they move from benchmark to capstone performance criteria within the rubric. Participants will be engaged through a short description of the larger university wide study and focus in on the domain relevant needs of interior design education. The critical thinking VALUE rubric will be shared along with the five adapted sub-rubrics created for the research study in each of the areas of critical thinking including: explanation of issues, defining relevant evidence, using appropriate context and assumptions, defining a position, and assessing conclusions. The development of explicit and specific performance criteria will be discussed along with identifying relevant language to communicate effectively to students through the design of a meaningful rubric for interior design education. Results will also highlight deficiencies found in critical thinking from the CAT test and the way rubrics can enhance these skills for students, not only in interior design problems but as lifelong critical thinkers.


  • Andrade, H. G. (2000). Using rubrics to promote thinking and learning. What Do We Mean About Results? 57(5), 13-18.
  • Association for American Colleges and Universities (AACU). (2010a). Critical Thinking VALUE Rubric.
  • Association for American Colleges and Universities (AACU). (2010b). VALUE rubric development.
  • Council for Interior Design Accreditation (CIDA). (2014). CIDA Future Vision 2014. 1-11.