Browse Category: Design Thinking

Teaching as Design

TFA frames teaching as leadership. That’s the name of the framework we’re following, TAL – Teaching as Leadership. Throughout the recruitment, this is a point they head home – this is leadership training, our students need strong leaders, and diversity, equity, and inclusivity is the center of our leadership. As a student leader, this was appealing to me, but they could have sent a message that would have hit my heart in an entirely different way.

Teaching as design.

Teaching is an undeniably creative process, and to me, it’s design thinking. Specifically, it’s human centered design – you are constantly iterating and trying new things with real, small humans. In design, you start out with a problem, or a goal; making a thinner iPhone. In teaching, that goal might be getting your students to understand two digit addition with regrouping. You’re getting feedback, constantly, and you modify your work to respond to that feedback.

In teaching, the feedback you get is often loud and unruly and sometimes children stick their middle finger up at you if they have a problem with what you’re doing. Sometimes the feedback looks like data – test scores, exit tickets, STAR planning reports.

In design, the feedback is focus groups, user testing, A/B testing.

Either way, the feedback informs the way you proceed, it informs the changes that you make to your practice. With both design and teaching, it is a practice, and your practice is going to change and evolve over time – my classroom is going to be different next year from the way it’s been this year, in so many ways.

My students took the TFA math summative, and I spent hours grading and entering data for every student, for every question. It’s a sixteen page test, and I have 18 students, so this was tedious, to say the least, and it’s a rigorous test – my students were showing mastery on the tests I’ve been giving all year, but when the summative happened, we didn’t do nearly as well, as shown on the above spreadsheets. Look at 1.OA.6, 1.OA.1, and 1.NBT.5 – I can look at the feedback and get results that will inform what I’m doing next year. You bet we’re going to devote more time to those standards, from the beginning of the school year, and I’m going to be integrating more rigorous content into the curriculum that the district provides.

To me, this is design thinking – iterating and testing out ideas, and creative problem solving is at the heart of it all.

Links for Friday, August 21

Design For Action – design thinking, in it’s murky, undefinable glory, is on the cover of Harvard Business Review.

As design has moved further from the world of products, its tools have been adapted and extended into a distinct new discipline: design thinking. Arguably, Nobel laureate Herbert Simon got the ball rolling with the 1969 classic The Sciences of the Artificial, which characterized design not so much as a physical process as a way of thinking. And Richard Buchanan made a seminal advance in his 1992 article “Wicked Problems in Design Thinking,” in which he proposed using design to solve extraordinarily persistent and difficult challenges.

But as the complexity of the design process increases, a new hurdle arises: the acceptance of what we might call “the designed artifact”—whether product, user experience, strategy, or complex system—by stakeholders. In the following pages we’ll explain this new challenge and demonstrate how design thinking can help strategic and system innovators make the new worlds they’ve imagined come to pass. In fact, we’d argue that with very complex artifacts, the design of their “intervention”—their introduction and integration into the status quo—is even more critical to success than the design of the artifacts themselves.

I saw David Kelley speak in Grand Rapids in 2012, and he was fascinating. Also, wicked problems are something I’ve written about before.

Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace – as a journalist, I’m fascinated by the response that this article has garnered. People are questioning if the sources represent common experiences at Amazon, they’re questioning if other companies treat their employees the same way, and what should be done about it. The New York Times published a few follow-up articles, Jeff Bezos and Amazon Employees Join Debate Over Its Culture and Was Portrayl of Amazon’s Brutal Workplace On Target? As a public relations student, I’m watching closely to see how Amazon handles this, and how the situation plays out. Amazon has a history of being harsh toward businesses in a way that completely upends norms. Will the competitive edge gained by being harsh toward their employees become the new norm? If things are so bad at Amazon, why do smart, talented people keep working there? I have a feeling this will come up in one of my PR classes this fall.

Can You Design Innovation? – We know that cities foster innovation, through a sort of interpersonal friction, but is there a way that you can engineer that effect?

An innovation district can be planned from the ground up or areas within cities can evolve into one. At its broadest, an innovation district is composed of cutting-edge research (usually from of a major academic institution), business incubators, startups, advanced technical networking, commercial spaces, housing, transit accessibility, social spaces, and amenities. It goes beyond generic “mixed use” construction to embody a recipe of specific attributes that, in theory, fuel innovation. Moreover, everything is packed into a dense area. The idea is that when you mix all these things together, people, who in the old model of city building might remain siloed, have the opportunity to mingle. And being the social creatures that they are, then spark conversations with those outside of their direct discipline and potentially come up with incredible new ideas. In theory, innovation districts are the antithesis of the isolated business parks and corporate campuses that define Silicon Valley. 

Lawn Order – the most recent episode of 99% Invisible is about the strange obsession that we have with lawns. I hate lawns and because they’re a waste of space and terrible for the environment, and I felt like my beliefs were vindicated by this podcast.

Building a Chair Simple Enough for a Pope – I’m fascinated by the way furniture design and ornamentation intersect with the structures in which people practice their faith, and how the built world influences the way that faith is practiced. After all, is a church service different in a cathedral with a massive pipe organ than it is outdoors in the woods? Of course it is, but how and why? I can’t wait to see the finished chair.

Free Pizza = Student Life?

The biggest gathering at Kendall College of Art and Design is Halloween. There’s a costume contest, there’s food, everyone comes to it. On most other days of the year, the school is empty.


The dialogue and personality class at Kendall College of Art and Design is solving community and student life issues the same way they solve design problems. This wasn’t the obvious choice for a school project, Zoe Carmichael, the class professor, wrote in an email. She went on to say the process of deciding what problem to solve took a while, but what the students did know at the beginning of the semester was that they wanted to pursue a college related issue.

“It’s a huge deal, it affects us, we’re experts at it.  That’s why we chose to go after student life at Kendall,” said Phil Han, a student in the class.

They started their design process with research, making a survey and advertising it, asking students to fill it out. So far, 80 students have taken the survey, and the class is using the data to find out what sort of improvements would matter most to students. On a scale of one to five, 54 percent of students ranked their experience at Kendall a four, and 34 percent ranked their experience a three. In response to the question “From what you learned at orientation, has student life been what you expected?” 51 percent of students answered “no.”

The survey asks students to elaborate on their experiences. Many students wrote that they would like more activities to bring students together, and many expressed that the facilities were not adequate, given the price of tuition. “There’s not nearly enough space, or available supplies, or social areas, or non-art based activities, or reasonable degrees to obtain for the amount we pay for everything. Student housing and parking is a joke, and there’s not even a gym available on campus, or affordable decent food. Fact is, we have some buildings where things happen during the day. This is not a campus,” wrote one student. Another student saw the problem with student life as being caused in part by students and wrote, “Kendall has many people that are introverts, stay to themselves and do not want to interact, not all but many more than any other place I have been [the people who do talk agree] wish there were more interactive groundbreaking things to do inside and outside of class to break these barriers. “In answering different survey questions, at least 12 students mentioned 24 hour studio access as a way to improve student life at Kendall. “Even Grand Valley allows 24 hour studio access for their art students and they are a standard university. This is an art college, yet we are being oppressed from making our art,” wrote one student.

Students are not alone in believing that there is a problem with student life at Kendall. “I think from people who start here,” Dr. David Rosen, president of the school said, “and who progress, stay here for four to six years to get their degree or come here from another art institution…what they will find is some things which are compromising to a community that’s really struggling to be all that it can be as an art and design school.” Rosen said that based on the National Survey of Student Engagement, Kendall is average, but could be better. As an art and design conservatory type of school, student engagement should be very high.Rosen also believes that food and housing are issues for the school, and mentioned his ideas about improving them, one of which was building a dorm in the area where the parking lot is. The lack of affordable housing near Kendall leaves some students to commute daily from Holland or Muskegon, which can be a distraction from learning. Unmet basic needs are a distraction, says Rosen, and learning is more effective when those are met.

The class divided the issue into different parts of the whole, making a large-scale group project into manageable, individual work. Some students are working on a proposal for renovations to the student commons, which include adding a cafeteria and more soft seating. They also propose moving the library to a larger space and adding seating and quiet study areas.

The students realize that not all of their proposals will be put into action. “Because the students are taking on several areas of needed improvement, I do not think it is realistic to think that every solution will be implemented. They are well aware that this is only a proposal,” wrote Zoe Carmichael, in an email.

One thing that the class has found is the presence of free pizza in student life at Kendall. Most advising days, school events, and club meetings feature free pizza. “I was going to go home, but then I smelled pizza, so I stayed,” said one member of the class, of a school event. At an event hosted by the class to learn about what students want, several attendees were disappointed that there wasn’t pizza, despite the fact that there was free candy and pop. “If Kendall had a mascot, it would be a slice of pizza,” wrote one student in a blog post on tumblr.

Maybe a guy in a pizza suit is exactly what Kendall needs to improve student life.

Tomorrow at 1:30, in room 217 of the federal building, the dialogue and personality class will be presenting their design solution. Any Kendall students who are interested in the future of their school should be sure to check it out.  The facebook event page is here.

Sir Ken Robinson at GVSU

On March 27, Sir Ken Robinson spoke at Grand Valley State University as a part of their community reading project, where students and faculty were encouraged to read his book, The Element.
Robinson started by talking about his own experience with education, saying that he went to college at a time when college led straight to a job.  When he graduated, he didn’t want a job, so he was going to go to India, to “find himself”.  However, he ended up teaching English in Sweden instead, and then earning his PhD in England.
The problem that he sees is that people don’t feel that they’re talented.  He thinks that if people could gain a better understanding of their talents and aptitudes, they would be far better at choosing careers. People are very different at seventeen or eighteen, when they’re choosing what paths they’re going to take, than they are at thirty or forty, when they’ve arrived at where that path led.

“We live in revolutionary, unprecedented times.” Said Robinson, talking about rapidly changing technology.  Ten years ago, there was no Twitter, and the rest of the internet was a very different place.  Humans have had to adapt quickly, and in this new and changing economy, everyone has to be creative to be relevant.  Our current education system fails to foster creativity because it is based on training workers for an economy that no longer exists – one of manual, mechanical, labor.  In an industrial system, it makes sense to divide students by age, which Robinson says is detrimental – there is a wide range of ability levels within the same grade, and it’s difficult to teach at all of those levels.  Instead, the system teaches to a medium level, and students who excel are bored, and students who are behind are lost.  
Robinson links passion with education, and connects that to happiness and well-being.  This connectivity got me thinking about design, and really? Education is a design problem.  
What education needs is a system that nurtures students and their interests, teaches necessary skills, and prepares them for the workforce.  This is a big system, and it has limits.  There’s data on what is currently working and what isn’t, and what systems are working in other places. If change was allowed, maybe some big-idea designers could make a difference in the way education works.

Design/Educate/Connect at the GRAM

Design/Educate/Connect partners with the GRAM to showcase local entrepreneurs who bridge the gap between design and business.  On Friday night, the third annual D/E/C event featured seven business owners.
One defining characteristic of D/E/C is the fact that the interviewees are interviewed by people who they know well – often colleagues, friends, or partners.  The organizers decided to do this because they wanted to get past basic questions and gain a unique insight to their motivations and business goals.
The first interview was with Cliff Wegner, interviewed by Tom Crimp. Wegner is the owner of Mighty in the Midwest, a web and mobile development company. One topic the interview touched on was mobile-first design.  “We don’t do any work nowadays that isn’t responsive, and that isn’t built for varying devices,” said Wegner. “That mobile adherence is in all the work that we do.”  Mobile-first is a priority for Mighty in the Midwest because “It’s not necessarily mobile-first, it’s future-first.”  They went on to discuss the future of social media, and Grand Rapids as a hotbed for tech businesses.
The second interviewee was Jill DeVries, a local photographer, interviewed by Marissa Kulha.  DeVries became interested in photography around the time when she was finishing high school and beginning college, and has been doing photography full-time for three years.  Many photographers avoid wedding photography, but weddings make up a majority of DeVries’ work. “For me, they are absolutely my favorite thing,” said DeVries. “Part of that is because relationships are the most important part of my life…weddings, if nothing else, are a celebration of that.” 
Another topic that came up was Grand Rapids, and what’s keeping DeVries in this city when she could be working from anywhere. “I love traveling, I love every time I get to go somewhere new, but coming home to Grand Rapids is always the best feeling.  I love this city.” She said. “I think there’s just something in the air here, these people who are, everyone is doing something creative.”
The third interview was with Tyler Way, interviewed by Adrienne Rehm. Way made a business of customizing shoes, and now works as a shoe designer for Wolverine. For ArtPrize 2012, he was a part of Fashion Has Heart in collaboration with Threadless, which was in the top five venues of ArtPrize.  Fashion Has Heart pairs wounded veterans with artists to help veterans tell their stories through t-shirts and military-style boots. Now he’s working on another iteration of the project, with five more wounded veterans, looking for five more artists to help.
Next up was Derek Coppess, interviewed by Monica Clark. Coppess is the developer who is working on 616 Lofts.  Despite the seeming disconnect between development and design, the two are quite connected. “From a design standpoint, I feel like we go from a very human start, with the structuring of deals.” Coppess said. “Then going to an actual design concept with architects to take a space and start to program what’s going to happen there.”  When Clark asked about what drives Coppess, he said. “Creation, for me, is what does it.  It’s what I get in trouble with.” That ideal, that focus on creation is what drives everyone who was at D/E/C.
The penultimate interview was with Laura Caprara, interviewed by Eric Kuhn. Caprara was trained as a graphic designer, worked at an ad agency for several years, then freelanced as a graphic designer.  When Facebook rolled around, she became interested in it, and started a social media and PR company, Stellafly.  With Stellafly, and it’s precursor, Grand Rapids Social Diary, Caprara has become a major player in the world of marketing and PR in Grand Rapids.
The final interview deviated from the earlier ones, in that it was going in both directions – Christian Saylor and Joe Johnson, both from Universal Mind, a user experience design firm. They discussed how they both became interested in user experience design. As a child “I loved to watch people kind of interact with things. I was really intrigued by how they interacted with each other and also with digital things.” Said Johnson.  For him, design is about empathy and making people feel a certain way. Saylor, on the other hand was attracted by the storytelling aspect of design, inspired by the stories his father told him when he was young. With the rest of the team at Universal Mind, they make projects like One Second Epic and Horseplay, bridging play with design and storytelling to make winning products.
D/E/C erred on the business side of the connection between it and design, but it serves its purpose well – designing, educating, and connecting within our community.

Why Publishing needs Design

Photo by Livy Hoskins

Publishing has a Design problem.  Big D Design, systems design, design thinking, all of that.
We’re at a weird spot in which writers don’t need publishers in the same ways that they always did.  Forty years ago, writers needed publishers.  Publishers took care of everything, they read through slush piles to find great stories, they worked with writers to make their stories perfect, they promoted and distributed those stories, in bookstores.  This worked really well for most of the twentieth century.  Without a major publisher, you couldn’t show a story to anyone except people you know in real life, and anyone they might happen to show it to.  Self publishing would have involved you, writing your manuscript, having a friend edit your manuscript, then finding someone to print and bind it, and you, trying to convince people to buy it.

And then the internet was a thing that happened.  E-books became a thing.

At first, they were awkward to read, and fairly uncommon.  Then, the Kindle was released, they got more popular, Amazon had a financial interest in selling a lot of e-books, since they were selling the Kindle with very little profit.  To make more people interested in buying e-books, Amazon was selling e-books at a loss – they would pay $12 for a book and sell it for $9.99.  This was crucial in giving consumers an idea of how much an e-book is worth, which is why you see so many e-books priced at $2 or $5, but very few higher than $13.  It seems rational to pay $20 for a new hardcover book, but for an e-book?  No way.  This means that traditional publishers need to sell far more copies of an e-book to make the same amount of profit that they would off of a hardcover.

Self-published authors have seen this opportunity and pounced on it.  They operate with lower expenses than a publishing house, and they can afford to undercut the prices of a publishing house, and they’ll still make a profit.  Self-publishing works for some writers, but for readers?  There isn’t curation. The gatekeepers are gone, and no one knows what’s worth buying and reading.

The benefits of this new situation?  There are many.  Writers of niche books who are connected to their potential audience have the ability to publish books that traditional publishers wouldn’t touch.  Prose works that aren’t novel length will find a place in the market.  Genre will fade, slightly, and be replaced by “New for you” which might point readers toward books they wouldn’t have considered before.

What solutions are there for publishers?

They have got to innovate.  They must change, and change fast.
As I see it, there are three main ways to go about this.  The first is “publishing lite” which uses the current model of publishing.  It’s leaner, and it has to be pickier about what it publishes, and a majority of sales are e-books.  Authors are responsible for promotion, literary agents are responsible for  sifting through slush piles.  The publisher now functions as a gatekeeper, an editor, and a distributor.  The second is “author services”  This targets self-published writers, and provides them with editors, cover designs, publicity, and distribution.  The third is “small press” and it operates very similarly to how small presses operate today, but primarily online.  They would be focused on specific types of books, and thus provide some brand recognition.  Readers may think “I’ve never heard of this author, but I’ve liked the other things that this publisher has put out.  This book is probably worth a read.”

I don’t know which model will win out.  If the big, traditional publishers fail to change, they’ll die, and we won’t see much of the first model.  If small presses fail to change, we won’t see much of the third model.  Whatever happens, it’ll be interesting to watch.  I’ll be keeping an eye on Aspindle and Melville House, and I’ll also be interested to see what happens with Random House and their new online-only imprints.

One last thing:  What about libraries?

I love libraries, I really do.  I’m worried for them.  I worry that printed books will become a premium product, which will make acquisitions more expensive for them.  I worry that libraries and publishers will fail to work out a system in which libraries can lend e-books to patrons.  I worry that governments will fail to see the value in libraries and reduce funding, which will only push libraries toward irrelevance.
My best bet for libraries?  They’ll become community centers, more and more.  That’s not exactly the mission of libraries, but it might be their future.

Landscape Forms

Strictly speaking, innovation isn’t a requirement of outdoor furniture.  There are plenty of terrible benches and tables and streetlights in the world.  However, when people actively choose to innovate, great things can happen.  Landscape Forms is a furniture manufacturer that is astoundingly focused on design thinking. They design outdoor furniture, and you’ve probably seen their work around corporate or college campuses, or in a outdoor public space.  I had the chance to visit their offices and factory this past Friday, and here’s what I saw.
I like the curves happening here.

These benches were consistant with some of their other pieces, using this kind of curve and twist with metal. 
This uses that same sort of twist, and these lights look really, really good.  
These are “Lo-Glo” and they also make a larger version called “Hi-Glo”
This is larger one, Hi-Glo.
I’d always wondered how the woven benches came together, and now I know.  
The metal pieces are bent in advance, which makes them very weave-able. 
They had a really big powder-coating room, and these benches were headed there.

When I visited, story was a huge part of what they talked about. It’s important to have a story behind a brand, to have a story behind a product. It reminds me a lot of what Herman Miller does with the Aeron chair. They talk a lot about the process and the research that went into it, how it’s the first office chair without upholstery, etc, and that makes the chair more marketable.  The people I talked to emphasized brand as a part of that, in that your brand is a promise, and your product is the fulfillment of that promise.  That’s something that I’d be interested in learning more about, how brands form and maintain their image.


Their design process was also interesting to me, probably because their market research consists of sending their representatives out to design firms and asking their customers “Is this product that we have sketches of something that you would want?” which is very direct research, super cool.  They also go to public spaces and watch people move and interact, which is a great research, and also contributes to their story about a product.

Thank you, Landscape Forms, for letting me visit and see what you’re up to.