Sebastian Kernbach: Design thinking and Visual Thinking for research
Improving creativity, productivity and confidence of (PhD) researchers

Sebastian Kernbach is a lecturer, project manager and visual coach at the University of St. Gallen and Visiting Fellow at at Stanford University. He is the founder of the Visual Collaboration Lab. He holds a Doctorate in Philosophy in Communication Science in which he focused on Visual Collaborative Knowledge Work in knowledge-intense collaboration in Professional Services Firms and Design Thinking.

His activities in research, teaching and consulting focus on the role of visual thinking and design thinking to support individuals, teams and organizations in their thinking and communication efforts, in particular knowledge workers, such as researchers, lecturers, consultants, coaches, etc. His seminars and lecturers at Bachelor, Master, MBA, PhD, and Executive level are highly interactive and set doing and action at the core of participants’ learning experience.

His own work experience ranges from large organizations such as Xerox, to a small startup in Zurich, to the world’s largest brand consultancy Interbrand. Next to the University of St. Gallen, he is currently engaged with an organization called “The School of Life” and with the International Symposium on Knowledge Visualization and Visual Thinking.

Workshop contents and objectives

The workshop in a nutshell

This workshop is inspired by the course "Research as design" at Stanford University. According to their research (Cravens et al., 2014; Ulibarri et. al, 2014), productive, confident and motivated researchers need three things: analytical skills, creative confidence and emotional well-being. This is exactly what this five-day-workshop is about.

You will learn new visual tools and techniques to support your analytical and creative skills for your research projects. Through interventions from positive psychology and positive leadership you will be more aware of the research process, support your emotional well-being and learn how to turn mistakes into new opportunities. You will learn how to use storytelling (telling the story of your PhD) and new presentation formats to communicate your research confidently to various audiences.

You will have plenty of time in this week to work directly on your PhD, post-doc or other research project, you will benefit from peer-coaching and explore new ways to organize your projects and motivate yourself.

The workshop in a nutshell in this video message from the instructor:

Full workshop description

Participants will have the opportunity to apply design thinking tools and methods to their own research projects, creating prototypes of their research papers, understanding the importance of an iterative process and seeking feedback to further develop their research.

Simply put, design thinking is a method for problem solving, popularized in the early 1990s by applying it to product design. Since that time, a variety of design thinking approaches have been applied to an ever-increasing range of challenges including research challenges. Think of it as a constellation of iterative steps and best practices for tackling complexity rather than a specific process.

The at Stanford University has been among the first to teach design thinking to participants from areas such as engineering, medicine, business, law, the humanities, sciences, and education. They define themselves as the hub for innovators at Stanford and are recognized around the world. They were also the first to apply design thinking methods and tools to the research process and I had the pleasure to work with them in Stanford. This workshop is an extension of the Stanford workshop.

Based on the design thinking framework and mindset established at Stanford, participants will gain creative confidence in their research process and when facing challenges, problem-solving abilities to better deal with ambiguity using analytical skills and creative intelligence and emotional well-being which improves productivity when being proactive about emotional needs.

The goal of this workshop is to recognize the creative, playful mindset that underlies successful innovation in scholarship and explore how design thinking can improve the research process to make us more innovative scholars or scientists. And with this, to increase the ability of researchers to create quality research and a systematic application of creativity in their own research development. Especially because emerging scholars and interdisciplinary researchers need tools, techniques, support, and inspiration to approach their research in an innovative and playful spirit of design.

Participants will explore a variety of design skills and mindsets, but focus especially on how being mindful of your own research process, work styles, emotional state, and sometimes-hidden assumptions can help you get "unstuck" when facing research bumps in the road. The instructor seeks to help participants to explore potential solutions to problems in their research efforts.

Participants will be given short input sessions from the instructor and will have time to apply design thinking to their own project(s), giving and getting feedback and improving their research project. During the workshop, there will also time for an individual visual coaching session for each participants with the instructor.

During this workshop, participants will gain…

The workshop will be accompanied with a movie and social night for further inspiration and networking opportunities for all workshop participants early during the week. Later that week, participants will present their prototypes and iterative developments from throughout the week and will present their research story in new presentation formats, e.g. Pecha Kucha (20 images/slides for 20 seconds each) and/or Lightning Talk (“your research story in 180 seconds”).



No particular prerequisites are required, especially not in terms of being creative or being good at drawing. All you need is a mindset of curiosity, openness and experimentation.

This workshop is designed for participants without previous experience in design thinking (especially those who may have very little idea what “design thinking” even means!).


If you have any question, please get in contact with the instructor by email: