Teaching design as a problem solving activity forces an understanding of WHY a problem exists while training students on HOW that problem should or should not be solved.
I sometimes use the analogy that a designer, in some ways, is akin to an interpreter or translator. An interpreter helps two or more parties who speak different languages to communicate effectively. A designer also helps clients and their customers to communicate by using design to translate messages visually. The problem lies in how to best translate the clients message to the user. The path becomes more clear when instruments such as training, research, testing, and historical precedence are used to explain WHY a certain interpretation will or will not succeed.
Pertaining to the aforementioned design requests, students are taught why drawn wireframes are important, why site architecture matters, and why user personas contribute heavily to the design of a website. When it comes to branding, when students understand what elements make a brand mark successful and why, they are better equipped to execute when the time comes to create one. Knowing that a feature on a proposed mobile app will not work because of testing done with paper prototypes is very helpful. Knowing WHY that feature did not work is invaluable and will help when proposing a better solution.
Visual communication designers are now, more than ever, expected to be problem solvers within an organization, corporation, firm, or on their own. By focusing on the WHY in order to reinforce the HOW, design students should have the ability to break down complex problems in order to produce high quality solutions with limited assistance.