On Teaching Fashion: ‘Creativity is one of the highest forms of Critical Thinking’

Creativity is a problem solving activity, you set a brief, a challenge, an opportunity and await to see what learners do with it or what avenues they progress down. Dr J. Brown discusses in her article ‘The Creative Process and Critical Thinking’ that learners in the creation of their work progress down all of the stages of critical thinking, them being:

  1. ‘Knowledge
  2. Comprehension
  3. Application
  4. Analysis
  5. Synthesis
  6. Judgement’

‘The Creative Process and Critical Thinking. 2014’

Dr Brown goes further to analyse the perception of design courses and the idealistic romantic thought of the creative progress. Creativity is a challenge and the first lesson I try to instil in my learners is the fact that they need to maintain their level of creativity when perhaps the problem to be solved is not something that suits their own particular tastes.


Critical thinking in research. 

For the stages of Knowledge and Comprehension I think these need to be carefully divided. Recently I looked at a sketchbook of one of my learners, who presented her work to me showing page after page of what she told me were ‘inspirational images.’  After many pages of these I stopped her on a perfume advert she had ripped out of a magazine to question- what have you exactly gained from this? What I do not think she understood was the difference between gaining (or even more basic, just gathering) knowledge which could be items or images and the comprehension of understanding, reflecting,  justifying and reviewing what she has gained from this information gathering.

Southampton Solent University have published their own guide to Critical Thinking, where they have defined that critical thinking is not;

‘simply accepting everything you read or everything you hear.’

Critical Thinking, Southampton Solent.

Interestingly they have defined critical thinking and critical analysis separately. I do think there are differences however these come hand in hand in creativity. Also reflecting back on my student, this is exactly what she had not done. So many sketchbooks I see can end up looking like magazine scrap books- how do you combat this? A colleague recently said to me that a student had ‘visually analysed’, which yes as a visual and practical subject I am sure students do. But for the assessment within educational settings, my argument came to that I shouldn’t have to ‘guess’ what the student meant. Pages and pages of visual cutting and images does not show critiquing or justifying of the individuals’ thoughts.

Frequently I ask students to critique each others work, often by leaving ‘post its’ or completing review forms so the designer has evidence of this feedback. So regularly there is much hesitation about being critical of others work, where the safety net learners retreat to is to praise their peers rather than critique. Even still often the praise is very superficial of what they ‘like’.

I feel that application and analysis are also very much linked together within the thinking process, and also if the grounding on the comprehension is not there this would hinder any form of application going forward. This I think this is where Critical and Contextual Studies is vital throughout courses to ensure the practice of comprehending information is instilled. However, many students see CCS as an ‘add on’ to their course for a session a week, and perhaps not their favourite slot. I have frequently had students asking me why we are researching, or giving me the design they wish to make before the project even begins.  So, how do you make the critical studies and thinking intrinsic to students?

I am interested to hear how do you incorporate critical thinking in your courses?


Brown, J. (2014) The creative process of critical thinking, [online] Available from: http://blog.fitnyc.edu/onmymind/2014/08/04/the-creative-process-critical-thinking/ Accessed on 19/05/2016

Southampton Solent, Critical Thinking, [online] Available from: http://mycourse.solent.ac.uk/mod/book/view.php?id=2733 Accessed on 19/05/2016


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