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design thinking for innovation

Stephanie Silverman, NBCT

ately there has been an excit- and refine my assignments and
ing shift in education, where to devise entirely new ones. I am
creativity and the creative
often asked how I come up with
process are finally spotlight- my assignments, and more often,
ed for the habits of mind, cognitive
how and why the students results
processes and learning attitudes they continue to be so successful. In
require and cultivate. As art educaresponse to such questions, at the
tors, we have known
What I have found, and what I believe
the value of creativity
lies at the heart of my programs
all along, and whether
we realize it or not, are
success is my ability to model a
masters at employing
learning attitude that accepts the
both systematic and
unknown and celebrates it for what it is:
interdisciplinary proban exhilarating space for innovation.
lem-solving methods
such as those advocated
by STEAM-based and
forefront of my teaching objectives
Design Thinking approaches now
is a student-initiated and student-led
occupying the hot limelight of 21st
problem-solving process, resulting
century educational literature.
in, finally, a creative, original stuOne hallmark of my teaching pracdent-devised solution. All course
tice is my need to constantly reinvent projects are reverse engineered

with these goals in mind. I have

found that what works best in
my classroom is the development
of an assignment problem that
is open-ended, and one that can
be interpreted an infinite number of ways, though a framework
of limitations must always exist
in order to provide constraints.
Whether I am teaching architectural design, 2D Design, or a
painting class, these criteria and
essential characteristics remain
central. Without question, this
approach can be quite unnerving
for the art educator, and requires
a nimble, highly adaptive and
flexible teaching style in order
to supervise and lead students
through the process. Since the
outcome is not fixed or known
unlike many cookie cutter

Left: Resaerch phase informing

prototype and material investigations.

or recipe type art lessons, it

demands a complete surrender
to unpredictability. As the educator, I must relinquish control
and trust that I will be equipped
with the insights and expertise
the students will require as they
embark on their process. What
I have found, and what I believe
lies at the heart of my programs
success is my ability to model a
learning attitude that accepts the
unknown and celebrates it for
what it is: an exhilarating space
for innovation. Students need
to feel confident in taking risks,
and it is essential that they sense
your support and a collaborative,
can-do spirit. A process rife
with ambiguity coupled with an
unpredictable outcome can be
unsettling, but the results will
be worth it-I promise. After all,
if the outcome is known from
the outset, then are the students
really creating something new?
And if a fine art class isnt truly
creative, then what is its purpose? If you havent yet tried a
design thinking model in your
classroom, I encourage you to
give it a try. Ive broken down my
successful and fun found object
apparel design project into systematic stages described in detail
in the pages that follow.


I asked my 11th grade 3D Design students to Choose an

everyday, often undervalued or
overlooked material and elevate
or change our perception of the
material trough construction
and process in order to create
a wearable apparel design.

I also set very clear and rigid

constraints, an absolute necessity in the design process. But it
makes sense: without limitations
(time allotted, specific project
criteria, clear expectations and
assessment categories), students will flounder and feel lost,
consequently more dependent
on the teacher-and not nearly as
empowered to discover solutions
on their own through investigation, experimentation and most
importantly, innovation. One
essential limitation is time. The
project described in this lesson
took 3 weeks start to finish, with
a class meeting every other day
for a 1.5-hour block period, but
many students chose to come in
to the studio to work on their
project outside of regularly

scheduled class time.

These two images show the development of one students design
process using free paint samples
found at Lowes and Home Depot
stores. Using a combination of
scoring and folding (taking advantage of the center line already
present on each chip), she created
a unique nesting design system for
the three-dimensional chips.

Below: Inspiration imagery from

research phase informing sketches
and material samples/prototypes.
Though simple, this drawing
and the attached bow made out
of cards captures the essence of
the final design, and the same
playful, evocative qualities of
the drawing translate through to
the very end of the process (final
piece pictrued on page 1). A key
design element of the final dress
is the bow constructed of playing
cards, the source of inspiration in
the earliest design phase.

Requiring preliminary work provides
a springboard for discovery, while also
holding students accountable for producing artifacts of their thinking, learning and experimentation before proceeding into the actual project. By requiring
them to explore several alternatives and
create material samples for each option,

it also demonstrates to me that

their process included substantial divergent thinking as well
as convergent thinking, making
for a better and more informed
end-result. Rather than becoming too narrowly fixed on one
solution (convergent thinking),

they are forced to explore many

alternatives (divergent thinking)
before a premature attachment to
a particular approach or material
sets in.

4. Choose.
At the conclusion of the first
week of preliminary investigations and prototyping, we
met as a class to collectively
review the assignments goals
and objectives in relation to
prototypes and sketches to
best determine which solution is the most innovative
among those presented.
Students were encouraged
to make their own decision,
keeping in mind that the
easiest or most practical
solution is often not the best

3. Prototype.
Requiring students to not only
sketch, but produce physical material samples helps them to initiate the
transition from the imaginary and
conceptual realm of the design process (on paper and in their heads)
into the real three-dimensional,
physical tangible world. This step
provides a necessary and valuable
opportunity for students to discover that an approach they may have
been convinced would work in fact
will not work, and to perhaps discover a materials potential that they
had not been aware of prior to their
experimentation with it. It is also
critical that students understand the
importance of craft and construction. If our ultimate goal is to elevate
and/or re-contextualize an undervalued material, then the construction

and assemblage of the material

must be impeccable in order to
generate a perception of value.
If the goal is to re-contextualize the material, in effect to
disguise its origins or original
context (especially if it is of little
perceived value), then craftsmanship becomes even more

Below: Michaella, a junior, cutting a

basketball into segments to better understand the material and the geometry
of each segment that when assembled,
creates the sphere. Above: a sample she
created experimenting with various
acrylic paint overlays on the section
of basketball. She later chooses to go
wiht the gold acrylic paint for her final
design, see page 6).

Concept sketches by Lexy Maron.

5. Create
Students then entered the
phase, bringing their designs
into the three-dimensional
realm. Though the unexpected continues to occur even at
this stage, the goal is that the
phases eliminated most instances of improvisation. The
design should be carefully
planned and the execution of
the concept should be mostly
prescriptive at this stage.

The only male student in the class, Baiheng Chen bravely chose to work
with a most certainly undervalued material, maxi pads. His logic: They
have a built-in adhesive. Brilliant, but a great example of how, if poorly
constructed, this dress could have been a disaster! Chen won a Gold Key
at the 2015 Delaware Regional Scholastics for the final dress, a National
Silver Medal and is now moving on to study Fashion Design at Parsons.

6. Learn & Evaluate.

The evaluation stage is perhaps
the most important, since it engages reflective practice and seeks
to take new knowledge generated
by the assignment and build upon
it. Students present their solutions to the class and instructor.
We informally assess the work
as a group to determine if each
students solution succeeded in
meeting goals of the assignment,
discuss areas for improvement
and acknowledge successes. What
could be done differently or better? Then, I apply a more formal
assessment, often in conjunction
with and in consideration of a
written student self-assessment,
and grade the project.

Measuring Success: Apply Rubric (Formal Assessment)

/50 Assignment Objective Met: Student chose an everyday material
and devised an innovative design process that elevated, transforms,
or re-contextualized the chosen material into an original apparel
design. Design system is creative, unique and complex.
/25 Craft/Construction: Utilization of materials is clean, technically
advanced, and exceptional.
25/ Design Process & Planning: Student captured original ideas
from preliminary planning and development stages and incorporated them successfully into the finished work. The final piece was not
improvisational in nature, and indicates that student conducted
careful planning and material explorations, resulting in a resolved
and cohesive final project.

Completed Student Projects:

Artist: Michaella Moore, 11th Grade

Artist: Victoria Humphrey, 11th Grade

Artist: Lexy Maron, 11th Grade

Artist: Baiheng Chen, 11th Grade

Artist: Claire Biordi, 11th Grade

Artist: Kate Finio, 11th Grade

Artist: Mackenzie Gaul, 10th Grade