Designing a Change

Serpentine Gallery Pavillion1

Although not as much of a rockstar in the ed reform headlines as STEM or maker, the concept of “design thinking” is beginning to seep into the top ten. Like STEM, maker, and PBL, it’s touted by advocates as a new idea that could revolutionize learning. Also like those other terms, few people can agree on what it is and how it might fit into the classroom.

But don’t worry, even the experts are not sure how to concisely explain design thinking.

Confusion around the precise definition of design thinking is understandable, said Neil Stevenson, the executive portfolio director at IDEO Chicago, one of the best-known purveyors of design thinking. “Design thinking isn’t one thing,” he told me in a phone interview, “but a bundle of mindsets and philosophies all wrapped up in one term, which obviously has the potential to lead to ambiguity and misunderstanding.”

Which means it fits right in with STEM and those other vague educational concepts: “a bundle of mindsets and philosophies all wrapped up in one term”. Ambiguity and misunderstanding probably describes all of them and more.

I like the idea of design thinking being applied in the classroom since the concept of design incorporates many of the skills we say we want students to learn during their time in K12 (creativity, collaborative, critical thinking, etc.). From my experience, it offers students and teachers an organized process for creating solutions to problems in just about any subject area.

At its best, design thinking incorporates proven-effective teaching techniques such as self-directed inquiry and collaborative problem-solving, and dovetails nicely with social-emotional learning curricula that emphasize interpersonal skills such as collaboration and empathy.

Ultimately, design thinking is not a curriculum, advocates like Stevenson say, but a process for problem-solving, a strategy to elicit creativity rooted in empathy and comfort with failure.

However, there’s just one big problem with trying to incorporate design thinking into our current learning model: the concept does not fit with the curriculum, pedagogy, and objectives used in most American schools.

Simply inserting a few “design” activities into the school year when time allows (aka after the spring tests) does not help students become creative, to learn to think in new ways. The same is true when we try to graft STEM, or maker, or PBL, or any of the many other buzz concepts onto what is already being done in the classroom.

If design thinking is really important (or STEM, or maker, or <insert your favorite curriculum idea>) – if it is really a process students should learn and use – then make it part of everyday school instead of a special activity. Rewrite the curriculum around design principles, help teachers revise their pedagogy to make it work, and completely reimagine how to assess student progress.

Without a complete redesign of what school is, we simply have our 1950’s expectations with a few modern talking points.

Design is More Than Good Looks

Steve Jobs on design:

Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer – that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.

When it comes to most products, it’s always been true that functionality is more important than appearance. But there are still plenty of people who believe the outward style of Apple’s devices is the primary reason why they have a loyal customer base, one that’s steadily growing.

If rumors are correct, at tomorrow’s keynote for their annual developer’s conference, Apple execs will present new models in the MacBook Pro line. Soon after, I’ll be replacing my nearly five year old MacBook Pro with one of them.

No computer is going to be perfect, and the Mac OS has it’s quirks. However, more than any other company I can think of, I’m very sure their engineers will have sweated the details on both hardware and software to assure that the device is far more than just good looks.

Now if they can just do something about updating Aperture. :-)

Redesigning Teach

Studio 360 is a fun, interesting public radio program produced at WNYC in New York and focusing on the arts and popular culture.

Occasionally they hire graphic design firms to re-imagine the imagery for a part of that culture. This time around they decided to redesign teaching, or at least the graphic representation of teaching, and the results are bright, interesting, modern and, at least for me, extremely compelling.

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Although you can quibble with the use of school-bus yellow (and some did in the program’s comment section), this work is still many steps up from any illustration using the nth variation on an Apple. Take a look at all the results and, especially if you’re interested in the creative process of design, listen to the discussion with the designers.

I couldn’t find any indication that they are releasing this work under a Creative Commons license but I certainly hope so.

Remodeling Again

Between working on a new site for a friend and organizing a workshop for a conference the end of the month, I’ve been spending a lot of time with WordPress this weekend.

So, I figured why not put a new coat of pixels on this space as well?

WP makes switching to a new theme dirt simple.

However, then comes the tweaking required to get things looking exactly like you want them.

And that, of course, is when things start breaking. Let me know in the comments if anything looks out of place or if I’m screwing things up worse than normal. :-)

Being Googley

The people at Google have created a list of ten design principles that will guide their work and define what makes their products “Googley“.

1. Focus on people–their lives, their work, their dreams.
2. Every millisecond counts.
3. Simplicity is powerful.
4. Engage beginners and attract experts.
5. Dare to innovate.
6. Design for the world.
7. Plan for today’s and tomorrow’s business.
8. Delight the eye without distracting the mind.
9. Be worthy of people’s trust.
10. Add a human touch.

With a little tweaking, most of this could also be a list of principles that define teaching.

Focus on students – their lives, their work, their dreams.