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June 24, 2013  |  Learning and Engagement
Quick Fire! A Crash Course in Design Thinking
Prototypes of design solutions for education

Prototypes of design solutions for education

On June 6, in collaboration with staff from the Education Department at MoMA, we hosted 25 teachers representing the New York City Tri-State area, Pennsylvania, and Toronto—public, private, and charter schools—at MoMA to experiment and develop innovative models for education using methods of applied design and design thinking; at the core of this skill set is the development of a comfortable, confident relationship with uncertainty, ambiguity, and nonlinear processes.

Our studio, archiTEXT, has spent the last seven years bringing design and the design process into the spaces where we think people could most benefit from it, and some of our most interesting projects have been in the area of education. In an environment of scarce resources and changing classroom needs, teachers, students, and administrators are faced with the challenge of wanting an adaptive capacity in an environment that is inclined toward structure and fixed models. In this context, design thinking becomes an incredible resource for stakeholders involved in education, as it is a tool that values integrated thinking—the challenge of holding two opposing ideas at once, and being able to create an environment that honors both.

A workshop participant models her design for a new toothbrush.

A workshop participant models her design for a new toothbrush.

The workshop started off with a rapid-fire exercise prototyping a toothbrush innovation. Working in groups of five, the teachers were given 15 minutes to brainstorm, spectrum-map, problem find, prototype, and present their work for feedback. Although they didn’t get into the process of iteration (incorporating feedback into their prototype) on their toothbrush, the exercise encouraged them to let go of their notions of “good” in order to truly embrace their implicit creativity. Through this process, we hoped to have the teachers embody the role of a designer, understanding that good design is empathetic and looks closely at the needs and the wishes of users.

For the remainder of the day, the group was invited to brainstorm about challenges they were facing in their educational environments in the following five categories: curriculum, physical space, administration, the whole system, and “other” outlying problems. After a rapid brainstorming session, the participants found their way to the topic that interested them, and, using generative design research tools such as “the 5 whys,” stakeholder mapping, and role-playing, revealed one or two systemic challenges within their topic area.

Generative design tools

Generative design tools

After a morning of exploration and experimentation with these tools, the participants had a design brief that created an architecture for their journey toward possible solutions. During the afternoon session, the teachers spread out around MoMA, building prototypes, testing them with users and visitors in the Museum, and repeating the process, before coming together to present their work for feedback and critique.

Working together to brainstorm problems

Working together to brainstorm problems

Over the course of the day teachers began to realize that the ambiguity of having to dive deep into a problem with the intent of creating the suggestion of a starting point (rather than a solution) led them to a very “stuck” place. As designers, we spend a lot of our time in this “stuck” place. In order to emerge from it, you have to ask the most simple, often banal questions, which so frequently are overlooked. Teachers in the workshop reflected that so often they are encouraged to be solution oriented, without the space to experiment and test what works best for particular groups of students. They also commented that, in education more broadly, students are trained to prepare for a “certain” world, when the truth is that we should be equipping students with the skills to manage and navigate uncertainty.

From left: hi-tech and low-tech solutions

From left: hi-tech and low-tech solutions

We challenged the teachers to take these methods and integrate them into their classroom practice—even at a small scale—and to continue being aware that when they face challenges, they have a low-cost, high-impact tool at their disposal: the design process.

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