Design thinking and education

The Nordic Conference on Activity Theory and the Fourth Finnish Conference on Cultural and Activity Research (FISCAR10) started today. This time the conference takes place at the Aalto University School of Art and Design.

The keynotes are video streamed online. The recording will be available in the same site, too.

The original home of the activity theory is in psychology (cultural-historical psychology) but people in the community have always moved across different disciplines. The theory has also achieved interest especially among such areas as education, organizational studies, work research and human-computer interaction.

This year — because of the location where the conference is taking place, I think — there are more design thinking in the air than probably ever before. Also the concept of combining art and design, economics, science and technology in the Aalto University is interesting when analyzed in light of the activity theory.

During the conference, I hope, we will have many discussions about design thinking and education, with emphasis on product design, artifact creation, architecture — on things that have concrete impact to people’s life.

It’s not the first time that “design” is discussed in the context of education and learning. One branch of learning science have present the idea or design-based research (Barab & Squire, 2004; The Design-Based Research Collective, 2003). In design-based research the aim is to do research with designed interventions into real-world educational, teaching and learning situations. In design-based research design interventions are a research method.

I think design-based research is missing some important aspects of design thinking. In design field the designs — artifacts, products, “things” — are the main outcome of the activity. The design process is creative and intentional activity of composition: “brining parts, pieces, functions, structures, processes and forms together n a such a way that they have a presence and make an appearance, particularly of unity, in the world” (Nelson & Stolterman, 2003). The designs (the “things”) are the change agents. They are concrete things that are changing our way of doing things.

For someone coming from the field of new media design the impact of tools and artifacts in human life and culture is obvious. People playing with new media and internet know that these things are changing the way we live our lives, socialize, communicate, work, love, hate, and learn.

The sad thing with the new media is that we easily take the tools and artifacts for granted, as something that just comes like a natural force. This is of course not true. There are people “designing” these things. They are driven by values, ideals and intentions. They are humans.

Design is communication. Design thinking is a skill of moderating design communication, deliberating different intentions and interests. But this is not enough. Design thinking is also an issue of leadership. When there is a request to deliver the “thing”, the designer must be able to do decisions. To get the thing done.

Here is a video nicely explaining how design process can go wrong.

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