MBA in Design Strategy, California College of the Arts
Children age 9-10
DesignPlay is Design Thinking for children. It is an open-ended, foundational creative framework that builds on what children already do as they play. As they imagine, create and collaborate with others, DesignPlay helps kids understand they can influence their environment. Their empowerment leads to change in their environment and beyond.
Jonathan Fristad Susan Huang Ahmed Riaz Eric Dorf Mon Vorratnchaiphan California College of the Arts, San Francisco, CA MBA in Design Strategy (dMBA) Experience Studio – Professors Nathan Shedroff, Linda Yaven
We enjoyed the highly creative and innovative educational "peer to peer" approach of this entry and highly rated the fact that the project involved contextual research and user testing conducted in a socially and culturally diverse, stimulating school environment. The jury admired the nicely designed and easy to understand design solutions that appeal to adults and children alike. In the end, we consider the project to be a highly relevant example of how design can be successfully introduced in primary school education
1. Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the challenge posed to you? Did it get you excited and why?
Design Play was initiated as a project for the Experience Studio class at the California College of the Arts, MBA in Design Strategy graduate program. The assignment was to "design a learning experience." Common interest pointed team members to childhood education as the sphere in which to develop this experience. Specifically, how to introduce design thinking into childhood education, without modifying existing curriculum. Our goal was centered around three central challenges:
1) How to harness the natural, playful activities of children and keep them current and present into adulthood.
2) How to direct these playful activities to intersect with society, and make new learning opportunities.
3) To develop an offering that empowers children with design thinking tools - one that is engaging and able to be adapted across age and cultural barriers.
Design thinking is a integral part of the dMBA program,so from the beginning the project was of great interest to the group. Each of the team members is passionate about design principles, systems thinking and how they relates to sustainable solutions for stakeholders. Relating these principles to children specifically was an exciting path to travel along.
The initial prototype for the framework took shape in "The DesignPlay GoBook" a collection of DesignPlay exercises gathered in a journal/book format. It was designed to enable the participant to have a self-guided experience, ideally in a group setting with loose facilitation. Specific visual and written communication were implemented to allow for the cognitive and social development of 9 year old children.
2. What point of view did you bring to the challenge? Was there anything additional that you wanted to achieve with this project or bring to this project that was not part of the original brief?
In spite of their shared program, each of the team members brought a differing perspective to the project. Two of the team were international students who saw the need for design thinking principles in their countries of origin. The other team members had a great passion for changing the existing educational paradigm of standardized testing and formulaic learning.
3. When designing this project, whose interests did you consider? (Discuss various stakeholders, audiences, retailing, manufacturing, assembly, distribution, etc., for example.)
The team wanted to develop a product or system that could be easily understood by children aged 7-9. An offering that not only promoted learning, but one that was fun for children to be a part of. Ideally a system that could succeed equally well with or without facilitation.
The intent was to develop an offering that in no way interfered with educators' existing curriculum. A major finding during our primary research was that educators were open to new material, but that it must supplement and not supplant existing content.
Thus we hoped to design an easily memorable framework that could take shape in any number of forms (books, games, videos, puzzles, etc.) One that could live outside of the classroom, or be delivered with existing curriculum – not changing what was taught, but how teaching was implemented.
4. Describe the rigor that informed your design. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) If this was a strictly research or strategy project, please provide more detail here.
Primary research –The team interviewed people who, as individuals or representatives of organizations, were involved in similar Design Thinking and/or educational pursuits. These included:
• Laura Richardson, Frog Austin
• Peter Han, Inventors Without Borders
• Rob Stokes, Frog Austin
• Katie L Koch, Design Educator, New York
• 2nd-4th grade public school teachers
• Katerina Elkins, Preschool & PreK instructor
Prior to the discussions, emails were sent that helped frame the conversation by posing several simple questions:
• What are the basic elements of design or creativity?
• Is there a particular environment that encourages collaboration?
• What is your secret recipe?
• What roadblocks do you encounter (authority, parents, children) and how do you get through them? [Externalities]
• What barriers to creativity do children/people have? [Internal/Cultural]
Secondary Research – Secondary research included extensive inquiry into organizations involved in education, curriculum, and child development.
• Reggio Emilia
• Montessori Schools
• Presidio Child Development Center, San Francisco
• Making Learning Visible at Project Zero, Harvard
• MIT Media Lab
• Thought leaders in public education reform and design thinking
Prototype Testing – The "GoBook" prototype went through several iterations and reviews with advisors. Prototype testing was completed at a Bay Area public school, in an ethnically diverse 4th grade classroom. Facilitators were able to be selective in their choice of test subjects; subjects were chosen based on varied ethnicity and gender. Facilitators interacted with five children each; working on the ground, in a circle, at eye level with the children.
5. What is the social value of your design? (Gladdening, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, labor-mindful, environmental, cultural, etc.) How does it earn its keep in the world?
The development team hopes the Design Play framework can be used to shift the current educational paradigm away from nearly exclusive, standards-based learning to one that encourages creative, systems-thinking in children. Design Play hopes to impact a generation of children whose playful activities will intersect with society in the future as they innovate and add value on a global scale. This value will be seen across every sector of society, solving challenging problems in business, technology, culture, health and the environment. Design Play provides opportunities for children to engage in right-brained activities that lead to new thinking, creativity and innovation.
Additionally, the Design Play framework offers children a number of additional benefits that contribute to personal health and well-being:
• Creation – Using innate imagination skills to craft original drawings, structures, and stories unbound by environmental constraints.
• Freedom – Play and create without overt, tight constraints. Loose direction allows opportunity to explore their imagination applied to their environment
• Validation – Essential for healthy development. Opportunity to prove they are individuals worthy of the respect of peers and caregivers.
• Accomplishment – Enjoy satisfaction from opportunities to employ their innate skills of imagination in play and tasks set before them.
6. If you could have done one thing differently with the project, what would you have changed?
One can never get too many prototypes out for testing. That is one thing we wish we could have done differently with this project; complete more iterations. Ideally these iterations would been designed for a greater variance in age range among children to explore their developmental capabilities. Getting these iterations into the hands of more children to play with. We found it to be a challenge to get the GoBook into public school systems, as there were several layers of bureaucracy to get through. In hindsight it might have been easier to approach a charter school or homeschool organization, whose ability to adapt for specific projects is greater.