Teaching iterative design……….catching up with the curve.

Falmouth University students presenting their designs to Sir Kenneth Grange

Falmouth University students presenting their designs to Sir Kenneth Grange


Things have changed in the design world.  I jumped at the invitation to join students at Falmouth University as they presented their ideas to to their visiting professor, Sir Kenneth Grange.  Now here’s the thing.  When I was growing up this man was shaping the world, indeed he was creating the design climate we all work in now. But he was doing it largely before the advent of the internet.  When a stunning new piece of his work came out I had to find out about it when it was published in Design magazine, yes, the paper based copy.  Perhaps that is why when I mentioned him to a group of design teachers recently not  a flicker of recognition passed across any face.  I can’t help thinking it would have been a different matter if I had said that I had spent the day with Johnny Ive.  (If you are interested then hop on over to Amazon and pick up a copy of, “Making Britain Modern” by Gemma Curtin ).

What was most interesting about the day from my point of view was the enormous range of projects, materials,processes and methodologies that the students were engaged with. Who knew that you could injection mould cardboard?  Couple this with my frustration at the search results I got when looking at iterative design, or ID as it is now being called.  If you have not yet tried this search give it a go and see what you get.  My first reaction was that everybody was stealing the word design and forcing it to work in every possible context.  Was this another example of the word being used to add value to the normative, rather like the outmoded use of the term designer coupled to almost anything to sell it?  Well what emerges is that design thinking, the methodology of design, has escaped from the studio and permeated all sorts of other spaces.  A move pioneered by designers like Grange who recognised the application of the particular ways of thinking that designers adopt to a whole raft of problems.

Your Goggle search for iterative design should highlight this, articles about designing teaching episodes, software, websites, systems, organisations and almost everything else.  Now if you are a teacher of Design Technology this might make you a little uncomfortable and perhaps it should.  It is always difficult when someone starts using your expertise and gets it wrong, you know the feeling, your senior leadership suddenly starts talking about designing things and you know perfectly well that they just don’t get it.  However the ways in which designers are now working in so many spheres of activity ought to persuade us that our horizons are a little too limited.  After all we have been keen to promote the idea that design education equips individuals with transferable skills, we can hardly complain when they go ahead and transfer them can we?

But what about the impact in your school of this change in approach?   I suppose that all depends on where you are at the moment.  For many it will involve a change in perspective; letting go of the product and focusing on the methodology.  The revised curriculum it intended to allow schools freedom to, dare I say, design their own local curriculum around the prescribed core but it is essential that schools get to grips with teaching that core.  For many who have used the GCSE syllabus as their goal and guide in planning work for earlier years it will be a struggle to let go of the restrictive linearity that this imposes.  There should be questions about the range of materials available, about the logistics of resourcing and funding classes, about the implications of  modelling and about the teaching of the skills our children need to work in a different way.  It would be a mistake to imagine that the skills of sketching and modelling are somehow inherent, they need to be taught, practiced and developed in our children.  Equally the cognitive skills and the personal resilience involved in putting your ideas up for criticism and responding to the results are things that need to be articulated, taught and consciously developed.

There is a real opportunity provided by the abandonment of prescribed levels as a measure of progress.  Here is a chance to claim what progress in Design Technology really looks like.  Schools may well want to hang on to numbers as a way of monitoring and tracking performance but for the first time subject specialists have the chance to capture their own vision of what learning to be a designer ought to look like.  Anything that we put in place needs to be able to be used by teachers with children to characterise what they need to be able to do and how they can develop their skills.  Here is a chance to validate creativity and the ability to take risks, to focus on how we respond to criticism and to failure.  Here is the chance to accept professional expertise, we all know the feeling you get when you look at some work and know that the child concerned is functioning as a designer, it might be hard to quantify and measure but you know it when you see it.  Here is the chance to escape from the tyranny of evidence; do we really need to capture every stage in the design process on a lovely piece of paper?  How about using teacher judgement?   Yes I am sure you will want to moderate these judgements, what a great opportunity for teacher development that would be as you discuss what you see in a child’s work.

For some of us the greatest challenge will be in letting go.  Letting children explore their ideas in a wide variety of ways, letting them make mistakes and learning from them, letting them challenge our preconceptions.  All this of course against a background of ever increasing accountability, inspection, lesson observation, payment by results and sop forth.  The temptation to exert rigid control is strong but as a colleague said to me recelty, “For years I have been an A* exam factory but I haven’t done any education so I have changed my approach and now I make the children do all the work.”

This could be amazing if we grab the opportunity.





2 Responses to “Teaching iterative design……….catching up with the curve.”
  1. tristramshepard says:

    Reblogged this on All Change Please!.

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