Archives For design for education

If You Build It…

March 7, 2014 — Leave a comment

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Blocks. Legos. Forts. Kids are natural builders. But most schools don’t offer such hands-on learning. They offer sitting at a desk and listening quietly. That’s a shame, because there’s no better way to learn than by doing. Designer-activist Emily Pilloton gets this idea in a big way.

The founder of Project H, Emily’s dedicated her life to improving K-12 education in America through rigorous training in design thinking, vocational skills, and applied arts and sciences. (The “H” stands for the values at the core of her work: “hearts, hands, and hammers.”) Recently, Emily spoke to me about the two inspirational programs she’s running at Realm Charter School in Berkeley, CA: Camp H and Studio H. Camp H teaches young girls ages 9-12 hands-on design, woodworking, fabrication, and welding skills, while Studio H is a design and build class for 8- to 11-grade students that Emily originally co-founded with Matthew Miller in Bertie, NC. Where literalists see band saws and blow torches, visionaries like Emily and Matthew see these tools’ potential to strengthen kids’ math, design, and visual and abstract thinking skills—and boost their creative confidence.

But don’t just take my word for it. The best way to appreciate Studio H’s potential to transform young minds is to watch the recently released documentary, “If You Build It,” by Patrick Creadon, Christine O’Malley, and Neil Baer. This wonderful movie follows 13 Studio H students in Bertie, NC. Tasked with designing and building a farmers market for their community, “If You Build It” demonstrates how design can give meaning to our lives and shows just how difficult making meaningful change can be. Thankfully—spoiler alert!—their sheer optimism and determination surmounts bureaucratic obstructions and construction challenges.

I left the movie more convinced than ever that a thinking-with-your-hands approach to education provides students with the critical tools they need to build solid futures.

What other education experiments inspire you?

Photo courtesy of “If You Build It.”

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

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A few months ago education expert Sandy Speicher was kind enough to share her thoughts with me on the question: What’s different when you look at the world ofeducation through the lens of design?

Today I’m proud to share the newly relaunched Design Thinking for Educators toolkit. This toolkit supports teachers in using design thinking tools to become agents of change in their classrooms, schools, and communities by designing more effective curriculum, spaces, tools, and systems. Created in partnership with educators, the toolkit includes real-world classroom experiences and an accompanying workbook to help teachers determine which challenges to address.

Please share this free toolkit with educators in your network, and tell us: What’s your favorite tool in the new Design Thinking for Educators Toolkit?

(Posted also on my LinkedIn Thought Leader blog)

A step backward

July 18, 2011 — 1 Comment


The UK has long had an impressive track record of producing successful designers and engineers. Many credit that success to a focus on design within the education system. Significant investments were made in the second half of the 20th Century on design and engineering programs at the University level but more importantly for the last 20 years design and technology has been mandated as part of the core curriculum in high schools. Apparently this is now under threat as the government in the UK reduces spending and alters priorities. A number of influential designers, engineers and business folks, including James Dyson, Paul Smith, Dick Powell and Ian Callum make the argument in this video as to why this is a huge mistake.

IDEO colleague Ryan Jacoby has recently started a great blog about business design at do_matic. His post on a 2012 curriculum for a degree in business design is genius. Judging from the early response there seem to be plenty of people like me who would love to sign up. This looks like the education I wish I had had as a designer. The only problem is I think I would have needed my seven years in art school to accumulate some of the skills necessary to consider applying to Ryan’s program.

The thorny issue is how do design thinkers get the breadth and depth of education they need to tackle the systemic problems that face us?

Do we start with depth, a more traditional undergraduate degree in industrial design or engineering let’s say, and then follow it with the breadth in the form of Ryan’s Masters in Business Design? Or maybe it needs to be the other way around. A great liberal arts degree with business design as a major followed by the depth building experience of a more traditional design masters. I suspect that neither of these proves to be the ideal recipe and that we need many more varied paths to accumulate knowledge and experience.

Five questions

December 19, 2008 — 7 Comments

I popped into BusinessWeek a few days ago so that they could interview me for their “Five Questions” series. I spent most of my time talking about design thinking.