Design for learning – Blog task 1

Ill-conceived learning spaces are the bain of many an educator. Student engagement, focussed learning and even respect for the learning environment can all suffer with a space that has not met the needs of the student. Within my school a building was recently constructed for Vocational Trade Training and Information Technology. Now completed, the building is frequently utilised by classes, small working groups and individual senior students. Within the building an area that initially presents as a large foyer area, is being used as a workspace for small groups requiring somewhere for group discussion, or for quiet individual computer access. The zone, identified as HUB 1,  is essentially undefined and tends to shift purposes with each group moving through the building. This attitude tends to see teachers not utilising HUB 1 for task oriented purposes but more of an area of ‘overflow’, with greater teacher interaction happening in another room of the building. Obviously the area becomes more of a social centre, an escape from the rigours of the supervised classroom and a perfect zone of work avoidance.

The Design Thinking Toolkit identifies that the physical environment of the classroom sends a signal about how students should behave. The HUB 1 area is obviously not sending the right messages for students or teachers to engage in the space effectively. But possibly at the core of the issue is the unidentified purpose of the space and a sense of ownership by the people that use the space.

Area before 5

Photograph 1:  The HUB 1 space before


It is Tim Brown (2009) who imagines a simplified three key phases in the process of design thinking. He initially sets to link innovation and creative design through design thinking and then identifies the phases of ‘inspiration’, ‘ideation’ and ‘implementation’ as the steps towards product development that suits the need of the consumer. Each phase is linked, with intermediary phases interwoven though the whole process to finally execute the vision. (Brown 2008)  In assessing the ‘product’ of the initial building design, it is obvious that the space no longer meets the needs of the intended purpose, that is an effective learning space for students. Kuratko, Goldsworthy and Hornsby (2012) identify that a pitfall of some people is to hold on too tightly to the original insight and that an open mind needs to be maintained about the possibilities for an idea. The original idea for the HUB1 space needs to be redesigned.

To instigate initial small changes in the HUB1 space, it was essential to first talk to the students that use the area. It was clear from the conversations that they needed a space that allowed group discussions without disrupting the students working in the main computer area. Initially a small table was obtained from a nearby room, but further searching found more suitable tables. In true prototyping style the students ‘tested the product’.

Area before 4

Photograph 2: The HUB 1 trial desks in place

Area after 3

 Photograph 3: The HUB1 final look.

Although the changes to the space are small, and possibly an obvious addition to the building, this design change still needs to undergo some more consideration. How the group collaboration area affects the availability of the quiet study space needs to be considered. It is agreed the space is very under utilised and there is more that can be investigated for creating a valuable learning space.

Brown, T. (2008). Design thinking. Harvard business review86(6), 84.

Brown, T. (2009). Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation. HarperBusiness. p.37.

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



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5 thoughts on “Design for learning – Blog task 1

  1. jo quinlan

    Hi Rosie
    It is really hard to create that sense of ownership in communal spaces, yet we want spaces to be flexible enough for a variety of different people to use. Interesting to see that the addition of what we consider a very simple ideas of tables and chairs straight away changed the feel of the space, and made it look like a space that was inviting use rather than a large empty space. It reminds me of the simple addition of a mirror taped to a hospital bed being wheeled to surgery changing the anxiety levels of patients that Tim Brown referred to in one of the viewings for this subject. Your prototype shows that we don’t have to make big fancy changes to solve problems – simple solutions can often be more appropriate (and cheaper too!)

  2. jo quinlan

    PS – thanks for the link to the Design Thinking Toolkit which I have just downloaded to take a look at later 🙂

  3. mpickworth

    Rosie, yes I agree with Jo, the simple addition of a piece of furniture can change the learning that will happen in your space. As Paul Bennett indicates in his TED Talk sometimes it is the ‘bleeding obvious’. Being able to not only see what is in front of you but also ‘seeing things afresh’ can be important considerations in the design thinking process. Your students appear comfortable in the space and I trust your design thinking will need to more effective learning. Good luck! Margo
    TEDGlobal – Paul Bennett (2009). Design is in the detail [Online Video]. May 2007. Available from: [Accessed: 20 July 2014].

  4. moniquemcqueen

    Even when we build these wonderful new learning spaces we don’t always get it right first up and it is important as a designer to watch and interpret the culture of the users of the space (Kimbell,2011). The designing process never stops, these courses of action aim at “changing existing situations into preferred ones”(Simon,H.A. as cited by Kurato, D., Goldsworthy, M., & Hornsby, G. (2012). This is a great example too of using simple prototypes of speeding up the design process , resulting in a better outcome (Deutsche Bank,2012).

    Deutsche Bank,(2012). Innovation through design thinking.
    Kimbell, L. (2011). Rethinking design thinking: Part I. Design and Culture, 3(3), 285-306.
    Kurato, D., Goldsworthy, M., & Hornsby, G. (2012). The design-thinking process in Innovation accerlation: transforming organisational thinking. Boston: Pearson.


    I LOVE the pace of the prototyping you’ve started, and clearly intend to continue. The results and impact aren’t always what we hope for first time, and that’s where so many people just stop. Onwards! Some great beginnings here.


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