(Over)design Thinking

Design Assignments 2010 Higher Grade Product Design * Rasheeda

I spent two days in the last week or so in Design Thinking workshops, as I’m doing a lot of research (and tinkering) while developing a curriculum for a two-year course on Design Thinking for some of next year’s eleventh graders. I’m also in the middle of a unit with my tenth grade students that has them investigating a part of New York City and re-imagining it, redesigning it, and  building (a model of) it. While I’m excited to see what they come up with, I’m hoping that their solutions are more practical than anything else.

In a workshop I was at on Tuesday on IDEO’s Design Thinking for Educators methodology, I heard a couple of product ideas that ended up bothering me more than anything else. Working in pairs, participants described a typical day to a partner, who then had to create a solution to solve the most salient problem of that day. The great thing about Design Thinking workshops is that you’re always encouraged to be creative as you’re surrounded by colorful sticky notes, Sharpie markers, silly straws, and other happy things. But I think there is sometimes a lack of seriousness that comes with such whimsical materials. In response to a lack of time in someone’s day, the proposed product was a clock face with thirteen hours, with one more hour to get something done during the day. In response to a general business on the part of faculty members, another participant designed a faculty lounge with treadmills that had laptop stands and a shelf for books. While it’s fun to talk about these things in a group, they’re not at all practical. I’d rather spend my time creating things that might actually be used.

I hope that as the discipline of Design Thinking gets translated from educator workshops to student projects, we look for more useful creations from the students we teach. The examples are all around us – see public projects like the High Line, the Low LineCity Arch River for direct examples of innovative thinking that have the potential to transform the way we live – and there is no reason our students shouldn’t be a part of that, coming up with authentic solutions to real-world situations. A twenty-six hour day would be great, but it’s never going to happen. Let’s make better use of the twenty-four hours that we have every day.

(CC-licensed photo by Jordanhill School D&T Dept)