The current issue (Spring 2012) of Independent School magazine includes an article about the appearance of Design Thinking in independent schools, titled “An Experience of Yes”.
As many of you on the commission know, I’ve been running the design thinking program at IDS for about a year and a half now (including the launching of NEDS), and so the article was deeply interesting to me. I found the summary of what design thinking is to be quite helpful, so I encourage you to read about that, with that in mind. Yet the article stumbles on the questions of how to implement design thinking in schools and classrooms loom large as problems in the article.
Kim Saxe of Nueva School makes a major appearance in the article, as does David Kelley of the Stanford d.school and IDEO. The Resources for Schools and Teachers bibliography mentions the Design Thinking Toolkit for Educators, developed at the Riverdale School in conjunction with IDEO. Saeed Arida and Saba Ghole of the NuVu Studio also make an appearance in the article. These are all people who’ve been influential to me in developing the Design Thinking program at IDS.
At the core of what many of these folks say is a critical problem — implementation of design thinking requires people who are willing to invest in a “critique culture” and a society of iteration. That is, the assumption from the beginning is that the first effort is never really good enough, and it’s important to “do it again – do it over – go back to the drawing board – rinse and repeat” to get it right. I’m facing this now with a video I’m designing for school: each time I create the video, we notice one more thing that’s missing, that must be in it, that must be part of the viewer’s experience. NuVu’s Arida points out that there’s a high standard of expertise required of teachers in this kind of environment — there has to be a sustained process of critique that doesn’t kill projects, a high degree of project management, and a degree of coaching that’s quite serious.
A sidebar in the article defines the elements of design thinking quite well, breaking it down into five stages, with four or five substages under each major heading. None of this adequately explains the how of design thinking very well, or the challenges that you and your school may face in the process of getting this kind of program into your school.
It’s challenging to “make excellent mistakes” in the process of installing Design Thinking into the existing culture of independent schools, and it’s easy to get caught up in the surface issues — what is our process, what’s our marketing, what is our means of explanation — instead of diving deep into questions of process, critique, and methodology.
The article is playful, fun, and well-written, but the illustration at the start of the article has odd monsters with bizarre machines, as if to say on the map to a design thinking program: “here be dragons! Beware.”
It’s a warning we should all take to heart, even as we intend to sail beyond the sunset.