LittleDesigners

There is an increasing focus in the design and innovation world on design education beyond the traditional university level to younger and younger students.

In Australia for example, as part of the Federal Government’s ‘Ideas Boom’, there has been a formal focus on STEM and innovation approaches as part of everyday learning in primary and secondary schools.

Whilst completely respecting these approaches (we think investment in STEM is critical for building the capability of all people in modern economies) the missing link for us has been the layer of design – thinking creatively to solve problems from a collaborative and human-centred position.

So we were somewhat excited in late 2015 when we were approached by one of Canberra’s most outstanding local government schools – Macquarie Primary School – to develop and implement a program with their little people we have called Design In Schools 2015 (#DiS15 on the socials).

A Design Partnership Born out of Mutual Respect

In early 2015 DMA was engaged by ACT Health to undertake research into the parental/carer preferences for encouraging active travel within their households. Macquarie Primary School was a pilot school for the project. During the short piece of research we realised we’d been introduced to a pretty special teaching and learning group at Macquarie and we set about building a strong  relationship with the Principal, Wendy Cave and her Executive Team including Deputy Principal Brendan Briggs.

In November 2015 an opportunity arose to explore, with students at Macquarie, design as a problem-solving discipline and how it can act as an extension of their education focus on research as a viable career path. This was to build on the school focus of inquiry-based learning and research, and to show that these are skills and approaches that have ‘real world’ application.

Having seen us in action on the Active Travel project, Wendy asked us to present to the kids about what we do, as service designers, ‘for a living’. But we wanted more. Talking to kids (‘little people’ in Macquarie vernacular) would be good, but we reasoned working with them to actually undertake some service design would be great.

So rather than presenting to the students about DMA as a company or service design as a discipline, it was decided that a collaborative design project be developed so that the ‘little people’ at Macquarie, could practice being designers.

  • For Macquarie, the students would learn how to apply their existing research skills into a new approach or methodology (Service Design) and school management would get a focused, professional piece of design work undertaken around a key school issue – the experience of their school car park.
  • For DMA, the project would be a chance to see how ‘little people’ think and work through a formal design process.

For the school community, a detailed design specification with recommendations on how to address car park safety and enhancing the experience of the car park for users would be delivered.

The desire to undertake the project was both to satisfy an interest we have as designers in how younger people think about and interact with design concepts before having any formal design training and to also engage with a teaching cohort who are outstanding educators and researchers in their own right.

The Design Project – A Better Car Park Experience

We’ll write more about the approach and methodology later, but we essentially introduced a group of 11 year olds to being part of a service design team over six project sessions moving from intent through to design research, analysis, prototyping, prototype testing and solution development. The topic was a real problem in the school – the perception that the school had a dangerous car park and the intent of the approach to problem solving was that we lead the process, but the students led the solutioning, not the adults (despite some voices of protest from a couple of adults).

The sessions were split between the end of 2015 when the little people were in Year 5, and the start of 2016 when they had come back to school to be in their final year as Year 6s. The same group of 18 + their amazing teacher Faith Bentley stayed with us for the life of the project.

As well as trying to solve a serious issue for the school, we were interested in exploring some key themes as we moved through the project:

  • Would ‘little people’ take to purposeful play, rather than just play?
  • Would theory through practice, rather than ‘teaching design skills’ be a successful model?
  • How would ‘little people’ think and cope with formal methodological processes?
  • How would ‘little people’ cope with being expected to act as collaborators – organising to work as much as being ‘led and taught’?

We were also interested in seeing first hand, whether the oft quoted reflection ‘if only we could be as creative and open thinking as children’ was actually a real concept. Would we see floods of openness creativity and innovation, just because this was a group of young people? For guidance and inspirations we found ourselves referring to Sir Ken Robsinon’s Changing Education Paradigms talk.

Initial Reflections

We are going to talk and write about this a lot more once we are done (we delivered the draft design specification to Wendy this week), but after interviewing some of the little people (our team) and their teacher Faith (our design partner) towards the end of the project, we wanted to share their responses to design.

The sound is ordinary but the reflections are extraordinary ;)

  • Listen to some of the little people talk about design (2.39)

  • Listen to our design partner Faith Bentley talk about design (4.05)


Enjoy! There’s lots more reflection to come on this project that we were delighted and in the end honoured to be part of.

You can see our reflections from the field on this project by checking out #DiS15 on Instagram or Twitter