Around the studio, we talk daily about the power that design thinking can bring to our world. How might it impact a middle school education?
As part of our educational outreach efforts in partnership with the Ad Fed of Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, FUEL designers Rhiannon Montelius, Rachael Bair and John Allen recently visited RCCBA (Roosevelt Creative Corridor Business Academy) here in Cedar Rapids to give feedback to middle school students who were working on projects in product design.“The students were given access to all sorts of recycled materials (things like milk jugs, juice cartons and similar items) and asked to create one of two projects,” said Rhiannon. “A model ‘green’ car or an object that could withstand some sort of impact (they called it a colliding force.) It was an assignment all about trying, failing, then trying again.”
It takes courage to fail, and a willingness to hear other opinions is part of that growth.
“At first students wanted to run with the first idea they came up with and weren’t as comfortable with using design thinking,” said John. “However, as they continued to adopt this methodology of thought, they began to realize the many different solutions they could explore.”
In addition to their product designs, the students were also challenged with creating logos, commercials, or print ads for their products.
“Most of the groups developed the products before their marketing strategies,” said Rachael, “although they had the marketing aspect in mind while creating their prototypes. It was neat to see one group beginning to develop a logo and discussing the design decisions they made with them.”
For many students and young designers alike, the impulse is to try and strive for immediate perfection. Our experience at FUEL has shown that true breakthroughs often accompany a willingness to fail.
“It was pretty inspiring seeing these students work, discover, and then celebrate their accomplishments,” said Rhiannon. “When they failed, the teacher was always there to ask them questions and push them a little bit farther to help them learn how to progress in their project.”
Another important step in the development of a designer is learning to be intentional with your decisions, and that meant having the confidence to have a thoughtful answer to a simple, one-word question.
“It was really cool to push them to chase the question ‘Why?’” said Rachel. “Why was their product built a particular way? Why was that important? Why could they market that feature? They had already thought about needs or problems they could address, and then we encouraged them to use their ‘why’ findings to serve as the foundation of their products and campaigns.”While the design process creates structure on which to build thinking, the classes at RCCBA are set up with flexibility in mind.
“It was really neat to see that the school was structured in a way that gave students the freedom and resources to invent solutions on their own and creatively conquer the challenges they had been given,” said Rachael.
Rhiannon echoed those sentiments.
“I think by giving students a more hands-on experience, they can learn so much in comparison to what a text book can teach them,” she said. “It puts the lessons into a tangible experience for them, which could help solidify their understanding of the concepts they’re being taught.”
Could this type of learning inspire the next wave of designers?
“They’re doing something really radical, but completely appropriate for the world we live in,” said John. “Students are being taught there is more than just one train of thought. There’s more than one answer to everything.”
That’s a skill that’s certain to serve the students well.
Bill Bollman is FUEL’s Creative Director. Before co-founding FUEL in 2001, he worked for Horizon Communications, JW Morton and Basler Design Group. Bill studied Illustration at Hawkeye Tech in Waterloo, Iowa. An expert in the “old ways” of hands-on print production, these skills influence his work in the digital world to this day. His work throughout his career has been featured in international publications including Graphis, How International Design, Communication Arts, and The One Book as well as numerous design annuals and reference books.