The habitats we build directly effects our imagination- the way we think, the way we feel, the way we act. (Tina Seelig, 2012)
The inspiration for this redesign are two problem spaces that were not serving the purpose of a learning space for learning, thinking and creativity. The first space I chose to redesign was my home office. The second space was my work cubicle at work.
These spaces were chosen firstly in response to Tina Seelig’s (2012) observation that the habitats we build effect our capacity to be imaginative. Both these spaces were clearly not conducive to imagination capacity-building. Secondly, my use of digital devices needed to support how I learn, think, plan and imagine not be the focus of the learning space. Both spaces needed a human-centred approach which placed me and my learning needs at the centre of these spaces.
The opportunity for this redesign was the challenge presented by these spaces to provide a space for learning. In the case of my home office, the space was cluttered and did not have any clear intention or spaces to plan, document my learning journey or inspire new thinking. My office space at work is grey and I sit in a cubicle which is also grey. Neither space provided a space to nest or see “the guts of learning” (NoTosh, 2016a).
Why use design thinking?
Briefly surveying approaches behind design thinking helps to explain how they informed the redesign thinking of these spaces. Brown (2009) advocates design processes and thinking as approaches which can foster innovation by “tapping into capacities we all have” (p.4). Design thinking is “human-centered” and “deeply human” and uses our abilities for intuition, pattern recognition, ideation and emotional meaning-making to express in ideas in multiple mediums.
The findings of research by Seidel and Fixson (2013) revealed the advantages of adopting formal and informal design methods during the phases of concept generation and concept selection. Design methods such as need finding (identifying an opportunity), prototyping, brainstorming, and debating were found to be valuable aids supporting concept generation and selection. According to Kuratko, Goldsworthy and Hornsby (2012) design thinking “converts ideas into form”, that is design makes ideas real (p.103)!
Further, Brown (2009) reminds us that people are at the centre of design thinking and three elements underpin the benefits of design thinking: insight, observation and empathy (p.40). Design thinking asks “What if?” questions which drive the imagining of the future rather than accepting the status quo (Kimbell, 2012, p.2).
By applying these approaches, I had an understanding and launching pad to quickly find a solution.
What is desirable, viable and feasible?
I cycled through design thinking approaches founded on an “enthusiastic acceptance of competing constraints (Brown, 2009, p18-19).
Inspiration and identifying an opportunity – What is desirable?
I need a learning space (habitat) that provides a space to learn, create and innovate.
Generate and test ideas – What is viable and feasible?
What is my budget? In both cases there were no funds and time was short. So I drew on the advice of Seelig (2012) to move from being a puzzle builder to being a quilt maker and leveraged available resources such as space, equipment and inspirational objects.
I accepted constraints and asked “What if?” questions to find solutions.
“What if …?” questions
“What if I redesigned my cubicle to become a nest and used the cubicle walls as a learning wall?”
“What if I cleaned up the spare room and moved my desk, printer and iMac into it?”
How shifts in the approach to space design has informed my redesign today
The evolution of the concept of design thinking provides clues to the of nature design thinking in the last few decades. Horst Rittel in the 1960s proposed the “wicked problem” approach whereby designers adopted a precise, methodological approach to problem definition and solution (Buchan, 1992, p.15). Kimbell (2012) documents the shifts in design thinking from the early 1970s where design was about “giving form, organization and order to physical things” and a “rational set of procedures that respond to a well-designed problem” to the 1980s and 1990s where key thinkers acknowledged the designer’s reliance on hunches and presuppositions and the importance of constraints (pp.290-292). Buchanan (1992) reports a shift from design thinking confined to craft and industrial production to design thinking accessible to “all individuals in everyday life” (1992, p.21).
Changes in educational practices from a teacher-centred 19th and 20th century model to a learner centred approach in the 21st century has influenced design thinking around learning spaces (Chism, 2006; Fisher, 2007; Temple, 2007). For example, the work of Reggio Emilia proposed the “environment as the third teacher” (New 2007; Rinaldi, 2006; Strong-Wilson & Ellis, 2007). Oblinger (2006) notes that in the 21st century three trends impact the design of spaces for learning: changes in learners, information technology and our understandings of learning. Spaces are change agents which reflect the people and their approach to learning and the power of built pedagogy effects how we teach and learn ( p.1.1). These shifts from functional to human-centred paved the way for me to generate ideas and solutions.
Core capacities of design thinking which informed my thinking
Although Razzouk & Shute (2012, p.338) note the nature of design thinking is elusive, there are skills that are commonly identified as attributes of successful practice. Brown (2009) notes the core capacities to think like a designer include the capacity to embrace that there is not one “best way” and the continuum of innovation is not linear but an iterative approach through the phases of inspiration, ideation and implementation (p.16). Designers need to be willing to accept constraints and bring the criteria of feasibility, viability and desirability into harmonious balance (p.18). Designers also need to be comfortable with ambiguity as briefs are a starting point which require further interpretation (p.22)
Designers also need to become skilled in developing empathy and insight to observe the experiences of how people engage in spaces in order to identify the opportunity and generate effective solutions (Brown, 2009, pp.40-42; Kimbell, 2012, p.137; Seidel & Fixson, p.21-25).
The Experiment and the solutions
By adopting a design-thinking approach I accepted that there is no “best way” and that this redesign is not the final solution but will cycle through overlapping iterative steps: inspiration, ideation, and implementation. The acceptance of constraints and learning to build harmony between the often competing elements of desirability, viability and feasibility resulted in a flexible solution which will continue to evolve as resources become available. I have also developed a sense of reflection and self-observation around how I engage in learning spaces. I am developing a mindfulness about how I learn in a space and how the space helps me learn (Langer, 1997).
In my home office I de-cluttered and moved to another room to create a nest to “surround myself with artefacts” of what I have learned. My nest is a space to think, imagine and plan my research and study (notosh, 2016). Enthusiastically accepting constraints and adopting the mindset of a quilter (Brown, 2009, p.18; Seelig, 2012) I leveraged my existing resources by moving my desk, chair, printer and iMac to a spare bedroom. I have cleaned a wall so that I can start a learning wall to document the “guts of my learning”. I have also created a padlet wall as a virtual learning wall that I can share and access anywhere, anytime.
At work I have altered my space to incorporate elements of colour, repurposed my cubicle wall to serve as a learning wall. My cubicle is reimagined now as a nest that I can incubate creative solutions for my work projects.
Brown, T. (2009). Change by design: How design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation. New York, NY: Harper Collins.
Chism, K.V.N. (2006). Challenging traditional assumptions and rethinking learning spaces. In D. G. Oblinger (Ed.), Learning spaces. Educause. Retrieved from https://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/PUB7102b.pdf
Fisher, K. (2007). Pedagogy and architecture. Architecture Australia, 96 (5), 55-57.
Kimbell, L. (2011). Rethinking design thinking: Part I. Design and Culture, 3(3), 285-306.
Kimbell, L. (2012). Rethinking design thinking: Part II, Design and Culture, 4(2), 129-148.
Kuratko, D.F, Goldsworthy, M.G. & Hornsby, J.F. (2012). The design-thinking process. In D.F Kuratko, M. G. Goldsworthy & J.F. Hornsby, Innovation acceleration: Transforming organizational thinking (pp.103-123). Boston: Pearson.
Langer, E.J. (1997). The Power of mindful learning. Cambridge Mass.: De Capo Press.
New, R.S. (2007) Reggio Emilia as cultural activity theory in practice. Theory Into Practice, 46(1), 5-13 doi: 10.1080/00405840709336543.
Notosh.com. (2016a). Learning spaces #1-Build a project nest. Retrieved from http://notosh.com/lab/build-a-project-nest/
Notosh.com. (2016b). Learning spaces #2-De-clutter to let learning get messy. Retrieved from http://notosh.com/lab/learning-space-2-de-clutter-to-let-learning-get-messy/
Oblinger, D. G. (2006). Space as change agent. In D.G. Oblinger (Ed.), Learning spaces. Educause. Retrieved from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/PUB7102.pdf
Razzouk, R. & Shute, V. (2012). What is design thinking and why is it important? Review of Educational Research, 82(3), 330-348.
Rinaldi, C. (2006). In dialogue with Reggio Emilia. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.
Seelig. T. (2012, August 1). A crash course in creativity [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/gyM6rx69iqg
Seidel, V.P. & Fixson, S.K. (2013). Adopting design thinking in novice multidisciplinary teams: The application and limits of design methods and reflexive practices. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 30(1), 19-33 doi:10.1111/jpim.12061.
Strong-Wilson, T. & Ellis, J. (2007). Children and place: Reggio Emilia’s environment as third teacher. Theory Into Practice, 46(1), 40-47.