4 posts categorized "Education"

Exploring Student-Led Problem Solving in Savannah High Schools

The 11 students in the room were nervous. They were about to present their ideas for an Anti-Violence Week to the school principal, Mr. Muhammad. Their journey began with a simple question: What change do you want to see in your community? It ended with their answer, which they created collectively over 12 class periods as part of their marketing class. Would their principal approve their idea, so their event could take place at Alfred E. Beach High School?

This is just one story from a pilot program I helped facilitate at frog, where we’ve been exploring how student-led problem solving creates ripple effects felt in the classroom, the school, and the community at large. This work has been in partnership with schools and local community groups, who have been using the Collective Action Toolkit (CAT)--our award-winning open-source guide to design thinking--in their classrooms and community meetings. The toolkit encourages problem solving as a form of skill development, with group activities that draw on participants’ strengths and perspectives. The toolkit challenges groups to act on their ideas by defining and clarifying shared goals throughout the process.

While we’d initially created the CAT to provide community leaders with resources and activities for bringing groups together to solve problems and create change in their local communities, we’ve seen it used in a much broader array of use cases. This includes everything from corporate innovation groups and startups to NGOs and governments. But we were intrigued by stories from teachers around the world, who were using many of the CAT’s activities in their schools. In order to better understand the potential value of group problem-solving in the high school classroom, we embarked on a 10-week pilot program with the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) Design for Sustainability program, in partnership with Design Ethos, Gatorball Academy, and teachers and classes at Beach, Groves, and Savannah High Schools.

In Professor Scott Boylston’s 10-week class “Sustainable Practices in Design,” eight designers worked with 42 students and three teachers in Savannah area high schools. The designers facilitated CAT activities over several weeks, moving from identifying community issues the students were passionate about to proposing implementable solutions using the toolkit’s six categories of activities.

I've documented this pilot program in a series of articles over the past two weeks:

If you’d like more information about this pilot program, download We Have a Voice: Facilitating Community Action with High School Students, a 100-page document created by the SCAD graduate students about their work with Beach, Savannah, and Groves High School. It also contains the graduate student's findings about how the community organization Gatorball Academy—who helped us connect with the high school teachers and classes—could position themselves to better serve local school students.

Many thanks to the eight graduate students, three teachers, 42 high school students, and community organizations that participated in this pilot program. They include:

Scott Boylston, SCAD Design for Sustainability
David Sherwin, frog
Erin Sanders, frog
Larry "Gator" Rivers, Gatorball Academy / Menyet
Debra Hasan, Gatorball Academy / Menyet
Robynn Butler, SCAD
Eric Green, SCAD
Carol Lora, SCAD
Marina Petrova, SCAD
Katie Mansell, SCAD
Naz (Najmeh) Mirzaie, SCAD
Alexandra Pappalardo, SCAD
Nathan Sundberg, SCAD
Ms. Wilson, Beach High School
Ms. Dawson, Groves High School
Ms. Reese, Savannah High School

Slides from "Design Is Hacking How We Learn"

This past September, I spoke at AIGA Seattle's Into the Woods, a multidisciplinary retreat whose theme was "Survive and Thrive." Five speakers were asked to speak on that theme through the particular lens of their practice, on topics as varied as sustainability (Scott Boylston) to inspiration (Jeanette Abbink) to creativity (Howard Lichter) to business (Seth Johnson and Karen Kurycki). The topic I was asked to speak on was design and education.

At the event, as we participated in far-reaching conversations fueled by everyone's passion for what design could accomplish, it seemed like each night would never end. But just like a long college weekend, we would still have to drag ourselves back to class (and/or work) on Monday. And even if you haven't been to college, you know what that feels like. We've lived it, as part of our experience growing up with school.

Take this scenario. It's your third cup of coffee for the 8 AM seminar, you sit down, and the room feels like it's filled with an incandescent haze drilling holes into your cerebral cortex. The teacher is passing out a handout, you turn it over, and suddenly you realize: You've been smacked with a pop quiz!

The fog lifts as the adrenaline courses through your veins. Sure, you've watched all the lectures, jotted down the occasional notes, and maybe done some of the reading while catching up on Breaking Bad. But the information swirling in your head hasn't come into a coherent whole. Maybe this is what your professor thinks she needs the class to do to critically master the material. And if you're going to get that degree next year and stumble out into the world, this could have an impact on your GPA.

You turn over the paper and see the first question: Can design solve most of society’s biggest problems?*

"Of course! Design can change the world!" You blurt it out loud, without even thinking. Everyone in the room looks at you. Oh, this is going to be easy, you think. I’m just going to write in “Yes.” Next question.

Then, you notice the asterisk. Your eye drops to the disclaimer lurking at the bottom of the page: *Be sure to show your work.

Suddenly, this test doesn't look so easy anymore.

If you'd asked me this question two years ago, I'm not sure I would have had a good answer. It wasn’t until this point in my career, 17 years in, that I could even venture taking a shot at it. So this is the topic of this talk: answering that question. And here's the response I'm going to write on my pop quiz:

Design can solve society’s biggest problems… if we cultivate a love of learning through the design process.

So while I'd been asked to speak on the subject of design and education, my talk wasn't about educating designers. It's about how we learn. The next big disruption in lifelong learning will be by design. We are innately trained and poised to have a global impact on how other people can survive and thrive, whether they are designers or not.

The above slides are from a talk where I outlined how designers can do this better. I argue in this talk that the mode in which designers learn—with a focus on practice and reflection, supported by theory—is not limited to just designers. Taking this orientation towards learning hacks how we learn. This is an approach we can communicate to others.

I believe that anyone can adopt the range of skills that we regularly exercise, and learn about a variety of topics of value to them, without having to formally be or become a designer. This can happen not by redesigning how schools work, per se, but by looking at the design process as a form of skill development that can help people change their world. Within that process, there are simple tools we can teach others that help them to create more meaningful lives, independent of formal design work.

In the first half of the talk, I talked about what survival means through the lens of design and lifelong learning. In the second half, I shared tools I've gathered that have helped me become a more adaptive learner and designer, using the action map of the Collective Action Toolkit as a way to organize them (at the time still a work in progress).

"Beyond Craft and Tools: The Skills Design Students Must Master" on AIGA.org

Solution by Jessica Thrasher to the challenge Sixty Second Headline

When considering the skills that today’s designers need to be successful in today’s job market, we often focus on job requirements, which are listed in tidy bullet points on recruitment requests:

  • Experience working in Adobe Creative Suite version du jour
  • Knows Flash, Dreamweaver, HTML5/CSS3, Javascript, and more esoteric flavors of scripting languages (and theoretically knows how to create an interactive experience)
  • 3–5+ years of “related” design experience

Beyond these catchall job listings, what are today’s creative directors and designers really looking for from their hires?

To find out, I carved some time out of my work as a senior art director and user experience strategist to conduct some research. I sent out surveys to designers, creative directors and creative leaders in the American design community whom I felt could provide an informed perspective. Specifically, I wanted to know what today’s creative directors and designers sought in students emerging from today’s top design schools, and what skills designers weren’t learning that could be infused back into their course curriculum.

Continue reading this piece on AIGA.org.

Easy as ABC? Pt. 1 of 2

Easy as ABC

S is for string bean. E is for eggplant. Z is for... what vegetable name starts with Z?

My Intro to Design teacher, a forty-years-young art historian and graphic design aficionado, distributes to the class the following assignment: create a typeface out of found materials, document it in whatever medium you so desire, and present it to the class on a single sheet of paper.

One a.m. before the assignment was due, wire basket full of rare and unusual produce at the 24-hour supermarket, I was beginning to realize just how much I'd underestimated the difficulty of the task at hand. The very idea of creating a typeface, which seemed like such a simple activity when I'd read the handout, had become a gut-wrenching effort. And I only had nine more hours until I had to turn it in.

Fast-forward through one of the longer nights of my life:

4 AM: Photo-reducing bananas on the Kinkos color copier.

9 AM: Frantically cutting and pasting the copies onto a 20" x 24" sheet.

10 AM: Running to the art building, barely making it into the lecture hall before the class began, I dropped my fruit and vegetable typeface into the stack for grading and wearily went to my seat, both surprised that I'd survived the assignment intact, and excited to see what new work I'd be forced to create in the coming week.


A foil-wrapped tube with a die-cut in the middle that shows the wine label. A 4-color printed bag with handles made from grosgrain. Or perhaps a simple cardboard container that has been letter-pressed with the restaurant logo?

2006. Another busy day at the design studio. A kind of controlled chaos.

Our client, director of operations at a firm that develops restaurant concepts, needed to see two packaging ideas for their new wine bar by tomorrow. Meanwhile, we're trying to polish off the home page and secondary page comps for a technology consulting Web site. And we've got two big mailers for a cruise line that are still in process and need a ton of photo research.

I need to get a vendor on the phone, since I can't show these ideas to the client without knowing if they're even feasible in their budget. The photo researchers at the stock agency are calling me back soon to let me know what kind of glacier shots they were able to scare up. Meanwhile, I've still got to design the navigation for the Web site and other designers want to have a quick group critique to make sure we're going in the right direction on those trade show booths that are due on Friday. How could I have forgotten the booth designs? Our account manager extracts a deadline out of me, knowing that another project will have to give as a result.

I sit back in my chair for a moment, just letting it all sink in. Somehow this gigantic pile of work will all get done -- and to an exacting artistic standard. Our clients will love the work, and we will get paid for it.