That problem space…

The magazine reading area, just inside the glassed entry to our Library, has already passed through several iterations in the two years I’ve been on staff. Initially it was a storage area for journals; with up to 5 years of back issues. It was messy and they were rarely used. New front-facing shelving, comfortable seating (now moved out of the area) and a severe cull of past issues revamped the space. It’s far less messy but the journals are still rarely used. Students like to ensconce themselves in the space but there is little interaction with the actual journals, apart from past issues of the school magazine. I perceive an inherent philosophical question as to the virtue of maintaining this space as the “Magazine area” when the users don’t want them, and they become wallpaper and a physical impediment to optimal use of the space.


We need a design process so we look more creatively at space. We need to observe how people actually use the space, as suggested by Tim Brown, and if we are to “create choice” then the process has to establish how inspiration and ideation facilitate a breadth of ideas, rather than a fixed one.  While form may follow function, function will not be determined by form when users reject an imposed function upon space.

I’ve come to the view that our desire to encourage journal use has created a very boxed space as well as boxed-in thinking, from which we will not be moved. One of the greatest challenges in space design is the ability of non-designers to think like one. All design thinking is ultimately social, suggests Meinel and Leifer, and indeed, as of his writing in 1992,  design thinking has moved to what Buchanan calls a “new liberal art of technological culture” from its original pragmatic role. Design is centred on people, and their desires and practices are at the centre of the design thinking process. Using divergent and convergent thinking, Kuratko, Goldsworthy and Hornsby suggest we can be creative in everything we do. Good design speaks for itself. David Kelley asserts we can all learn to choose better ideas and to make better decisions. His example of the MRI machine and the thinking that went into its transformation into a pirate ship, illustrates the ultimate empathy with the user, in this case, children with health issues.


Relocating the shelving and newspaper stand leaves one bare brick wall and half a wall which follows the stairs. Horizontal banners which climb the stair wall would suggest places to go in their digital world. The brick wall would be a flexible space for displays relating specifically to students. The only journal they really like is the school magazine, so why wait for an annual production? This week’s micro-magazine on a new media wall. An LCD TV, scrolling news bites with images of students and their activities, alternating with Clickview or other promotional ideas. Comfortable seating would return, along with coffee table work spaces, replacing traditional height tables and chairs. The corners would adapt themselves well to pop-up makerspaces. This week we have a challenge to make 1000 paper cranes – no fanfare, just origami squares and a running tally. We have 180 after 3 days and the students don’t need any prompting. One of the important aspects is the surprise, fun factor. The user is directing the way the space is used.

Makerspace.With boys



Buchanan, R. (1992). Wicked problems in design thinking. Design Issues, 8(2), 5–21

Kelley, D. (2012). How to build your creative confidence.

Kuratko, D., Goldsworthy, M., & Hornsby, G. (2012). The design-thinking process in innovation acceleration : transforming organizational thinking. (pp.103-123). Boston : Pearson. 

Leifer, Larry; Plattner, Hasso; Meinel, Christoph (2013). Design Thinking Research : Building Innovation Eco-Systems. Retrieved from

Liedtka, J. (2011). Learning to use design thinking tools for successful innovation. Strategy & Leadership, 39(5), 13-19. doi:

Razzouk, R., & Shute, V. (2012). What is design thinking and why is it important? Review of Educational Research, September, 82 (3), 330–348


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6 thoughts on “That problem space…

  1. Deborah, It seems that you have used Hatchuel, A., Le Masson, P., & Weil, B.’s combination of K-Space and C-Space in your re-thinking about the magazine area. They suggest that we need to design for the unknown and use a combination of ‘Knowledge Space’, (what you already know about the space) and ‘Concept Space’- (ideas that have yet to be confirmed about the space). You knew that students chose the school magazine to read but you have used design thinking to use this knowledge in a new and different way. You are also open to the new and different ways that the space will be used. I trust there will lots of exciting new learning opportunities. Margo
    Hatchuel, A., Le Masson, P., & Weil, B. (2004). CK theory in practice: lessons from industrial applications. In DS 32: Proceedings of DESIGN 2004, the 8th International Design Conference, Dubrovnik, Croatia.

  2. Hi Deborah, it is so interesting to read your blog and refreshing to hear you question the value of the journals in their current space when no-one is accessing them. I like your thinking behind the re-design of the space. Is encouraging journals still a priority? And if so, how will you now do this?

    • Hi Helen

      There are two different issues at play here. The philosophical and the practical. My observation of the users of the space tells me they’re not particularly interested in the journals, but have adapted the space for other purposes. If as a teacher librarian I believe the journals are worthy, then perhaps I could use the design process to prototype solutions. That means considering the needs of the users – firstly for the use of the space as it is, then as it could be. It may well happen that the magazines stay where they are and are reconceived in the library provision. It certainly has me thinking.

  3. Hi Deborah,
    I also wonder sometimes about the utility of the magazine reading area. It is true that so few students read magazines now, so it may well make sense to repurpose the area (or find magazines they do want to read). I may well move towards displaying books on my magazine stand. Many more students read novels that read magazines. I love your activity space idea–students engaged in playing games or folding cranes. And changing your magazine space into a digital media area with displays also sounds inviting. Changing to comfortable seating and coffee tables also sounds good. Do have a look at Helen Stower’s post on a small change she made, though. She found that putting a full-height table where once there was a coffee table increased the usage of the space… The key is really being flexible, I think…. trying new things, evaluating them, and changing again if necessary. I hope you give your ideas a try! And I hope to stop in and visit sometime soon…

  4. This is really interesting, and I can see the promise in each of the ideas you’re proposing. What I’m less clear on is whether you’ve gone ahead and actually made the changes. If you have, please let us know and share the impact that it’s having on the use of the space. Thanks!

  5. When I proposed the above ideas, changes to the journal space were being discussed. We are quite a well off school and the cost is not the issue. The Head of Library has a preference for keeping the journal display as it is. I chose this problem space for the reasons outlined in the post, as I could see the potential for better use of the space. Small changes I have already made to the space, such as the paper crane activity, have worked well ((we’re up to 748!) and those minor innovations are absorbed by the students and they run with it. I’ve lost the battle (not sure about the war). Now I’m not clear as to whether the suggestions we make for redesigning spaces are about the concepts or the implementation.

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