Design Thinking for Art & Design Educators

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Three-day workshop at EASD in Soria. Art and design educators working in their groups to create solution ideas to improve art and design education at the school.

Last week I was pleased to go all the way to Soria in Spain to teach a three-day workshop on design thinking and team dynamics to the educators of Escuela de Arte y Superior de Design (EASD – Art & Design School). Soria is located two and half hours away from Madrid and is the capital of the province of Soria in the autonomous community of Castilla y León. The school offers a university-equivalent degree in Graphic Design (grado en Diseño Gráfico), but two other levels are also taught at the school: high school and foundation art and design education.

The Educators. The educators are an energetic group eager to grow and learn more creative ways of working to increase students’ motivation for learning but also make the school a unique institution to learn art and design. Some of the 18 educators that attended the course (the first day a few more came) teach across the three levels, while others teach only on one of them. In addition, educators come from different backgrounds including graphic design, photography, technology, art and English, making the group highly diverse and rich.

Context, Process & Principles. We started reviewing and discussing educational models 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 introduced by Gerstein and discussed the importance for Art and Design education of reconnecting with the Socratic approach described by Taylor. Then educators worked together to define the profiles of students and educators at EASD. This analysis helped them gain an initial and deeper understanding of the school dynamics and needs.

During the first day, we also discussed the design thinking process, and some basic communication principles and key roles that each team should have to maximise productive teamwork.

Understand & Empathise. During the following two days educators used design thinking to analyse the current situation of the school and identify areas that could be improved. Working in smaller groups they defined characteristics they would like a future designer to have acquired during their learning experience at EASD to become a successful, happy and accomplished professional. This exercise helped identify key skills and capabilities that students would benefit from learning in the school, and that therefore, educators could spend more time on or add to the curricula if they were not being offered.

Interesting themes emerged from this exercise: all educators mostly described non-technical or design related skills as essential for “success”. Personal capabilities, team skills, process knowledge and working with methods were stressed as key skills to work in a more systematic and structure way but also to build community and support among peers. Furthermore, rather than looking at Soria as a small place with little international scope, many educators imagined Soria as the basis of future designers who would be looking for a balance lifestyle: working with international clients and connecting with the world through online technology, while enjoying quiet and relaxed days with their families.

Define & Ideate. After this discussion, educators created HMW challenges to start defining areas where they would like to dig deeper. Some of these HMW challenges focused on students and others on educators, and they ranged from “how might they improve the learning experience for students at the school” and “how might they connect students’ lives and interests to the school” to “how might they improve educators’ training”.

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Groups brainstorming and voting ideas for their HMW challenges.

Each group chose one challenge to focus on and brainstormed around 100 ideas. Then they voted, selected and developed further two ideas, which were later given to the other groups to analyse using De Bono’s 6-thinking hats methodology. Interestingly, three of the five groups worked with ideas focused on changing and customising the building of the school to help students feel more engaged and motivated to go to class.

Prototype & Evaluate. As all educators had some sort of artistic background, the prototyping phase was particularly rich and everyone enjoyed getting their hands dirty to transform ideas into more elaborated solutions. Each group visualised one solution idea creating storyboards and prototypes.

At the end of the last day, their hard work paid off and they ended having five concrete and very implementable, creative solution ideas. Hopefully, the momentum continues and next time I’m visiting the school I see some of these solution ideas up and running!

Many thanks again for a great experience and wonderful hospitality!

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