Thoughts on Creating Designs

This tweet from @GraemeCampbell yesterday got me thinking:


I think this is a really important question, especially given that we now think of Creating as a Higher Order Thinking Skill and being able to analyse different options is a critical part of Creating.

Drawing 2. Bloom's Revised Taxonomy

In my context as an MYP Technology Teacher some of the skills needed in order to be Creating at a high level include: really understanding the problem/need the creation is meant to solve/meet; being able to come up with multiple ways to address this problem/need; and objectively choosing between different solutions.  None of these are skills that I or my students do naturally.

Graeme sums up most student’s natural approach to Creating nicely in this tweet:


In my classes I have tackled this issue in two different ways depending on the kind of project: group or individual.  If it is a group project then I have each student come up with their own design BEFORE I put them in groups.  Inevitable they want me to put them in groups before they start designing solutions but I have found that if I do that then they default to the “let’s just go with the design of the smartest kid” approach.  Once they have all made a good effort to come up with one design I put them in groups and tell them to decide “which design is best for meeting the Design Specifications for the project”, not just “which is the best design”?

To help them focus on the Design Specifications and be objective in their approach I give each group a table like this one and ask them to rank their designs according to each of the Design Specifications.  I then ask them to use their rankings to help them decide which design to use and justify the decisions that they have made.  Doing this has really helped me to unpack some of the thinking that students need to do when trying to design for a specific purpose.  Initially many of my conversations with students are around how to decide if a design meets specifications like “animations are smooth and help move the story along” when they haven’t done the animation yet.  My response is for them to look at the different animations each design requires and think about which ones might prove problematic in that regard.

This process has also reinforced for me the importance of spending time at the beginning of a project making sure everyone really understands the Design Specifications for a successful creation.  In particular I think it is really important to be able to share examples with students that they can reference to help them really understand what each Spec looks like.

In some ways I feel a little like the approach I describe above is cheating, as the ultimate goal here should be for each student to be able to come up with their own different designs.  This is hard and won’t happen on it’s own.  Teachers need to provide students with thinking tools that they can use to break themselves out of the “my first design is the best one” mode of thinking.

Yesterday I was interested to read that @Braddo uses an Open Space Technology approach to encourage exploration of ideas and designs.


Personally, I am still experimenting with different tools, most of which were either invented by or adapted from the work of Edward DeBono.  I have found that the Thinking Hats can be a useful way to help students objectively analyse the pros and cons of a particular design.  I also have a long running plan to try and incorporate some of the ideas from DeBono’s CoRT program into the design part of my courses.  Either way I firmly believe that we can’t just “expect’ our students to be able to think creatively and laterally without providing them with thinking tools for breaking out of linear thinking patterns.


  1. Hi Phil,

    What about getting the students to create a set design principles for the class to guide them in setting up their criteria? Many years ago now, I had the very good fortune to meet and interview Dieter Rams, chief designer for Braun and he, like any good designer, has a set of universal principles that guide his work, whatever the particular project ( We ought to be studying design itself and listening to people like Rams, Stefan Sagmeister (see his TED talk which, incidentally, gets at the emotional side of design), the folks at IDEO (see this great blog and so many others.

  2. Thanks for leaving a comment Brad. I really like Dieter Rams design principals. I’ll have to think about what they would actually look like applied to an MYP Technology project. I like the direction you are taking this conversation. In order to get my students to take design more seriously they first have to see its value.

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