Thinking about design

I’ve done some reading and thinking but rather than write this post in a true academic style I thought I’d just note down my own responses to these questions, based on but not specifically referring to what I’ve read. They probably sound a bit random. I’m thinking that coming back to these questions in a couple of months time would be an interesting exercise – hopefully my responses would have matured. Anyway, for what it’s worth this is what I think right now:

Why does design matter?

Design is the difference between something being good (great, fantastic) or merely good enough. Good design embodies a holistic approach that takes into consideration the human and environmental factors at play not just simple function or cost. Innovation is a product of design. Design enables clever solutions that can do more than was first thought or imagined.

What are the core reasons for which we need a design process?

A process allows for planned and agreed steps. Points along the way to try things out, reflect, refine and try again. Without a process it’s likely that the first ideas get implemented without being prototyped or trialled in an inexpensive or non-permanent form. Expensive mistakes are likely.

What might be the role of design when we think about learning spaces?

To use all the many and varied needs, wants, constraints and possibilities to come up with creative, inspiring and practical places to learn. Design looks further than current practice in the one field – it seeks and plays with ideas from unrelated, even incongruous fields to develop ideas that can be explored further with prototypes.

Other reflections

Last week at my school we were fortunate to have Sam Gliksman, author of iPad in Education for Dummies present to us about using the iPad to demonstrate learning and tell a story.

Our first activity was a challenge, “The Marshmallow Challenge” – groups of three were given 20  sticks of spaghetti (uncooked), a ball of string, sticky-tape, scissors and one marshmallow. Our instructions were to use these materials to make the tallest possible structure that could support the whole marshmallow at the top. We had 18 minutes and were also asked to record what we did using the iPad camera. The purpose of the exercise, as it turned out, was twofold. Firstly, we were gathering material to use while learning how the app Explain Everything can be used to demonstrate learning, but more importantly it was to illustrate a difference in the ways adults and children learn.


My group was monumentally unsuccessful. Our tower was tall but collapsed as soon as we put the marshmallow on top. Children (even kindergarten aged) almost always do better than adults at this challenge; better than teachers, lawyers and high-flying CEO’s (the only group of adults who does do better is architects and engineers which is probably a good thing). The difference that has been observed is that children will test the marshmallow at the top of the structure up to five times during the 18 minutes whereas us adults wait till the end (I know we did in my group). 

Thinking about this as I was reading about design and design thinking I realised that what the kindergarten kids did which we adults didn’t was prototype. They tried, failed and tried again. It made me realise that I only look for one solution to a problem – yes, it was me saying “don’t put the marshmallow on top yet, what if we break it, we’ll have to start again!”

Since starting this blog post I’ve found this TED video all about the Marshmallow Challenge.