Growing Up with Design: Conceptualizing Design Education for Secondary Schools

Master Thesis conducted at COOP Design Research in cooperation with Bauhaus Dessau Foundation, University of Anhalt, and Humboldt University of Berlin


While design-oriented industries are calling upon sophisticated design methodologies to solve complex problems, school systems are failing to meet the growing need for such design curricula, especially for younger student groups. When available, design education in secondary schools is often wedged into a visual arts curriculum, where teachers erroneously introduce design as a mere creative extension of art. The purpose of this research is to collect experiences and perspectives from design educators on how they conceptualize design education for adolescents and to explore the benefits of design education for this specific age group.

The history of design education discourse has been increasingly active in the 20th Century following the inauguration of the Bauhaus school. However, such discussion and research has primarily focused on higher education and elementary education levels, while design education specifically focused on the adolescent group in secondary education is consistently lacking.

Some of the challenges in implementing design into the mainstream curricula lie in the fact that the very discipline and role of design have evolved over time, shifting its primary role from making artifacts and objects look and work better to improving social, economic, and physical systems around us. The lack of clear articulation and consensus around the definition of design has inevitably contributed to the shallowness of public understanding around the concepts of design, design process, and design education.

Secondly, the structures and methodologies of education systems as a whole continue to lag behind, leaving not much room for the creative divergent thinking processes that design education seeks to foster. Current education systems condition students to temporarily memorize facts to obtain “the right answer” rather than to engage in creative processes to find answers to complex problems.

By examining how design has evolved over time, this thesis aims to present an updated definition of design in today’s learning and design context and answer the question: how does one teach design, which cannot be mastered only through book study. By collaborating and building consensus with current educators and designers, a step towards bringing design learning to secondary schools could be achieved. We need to promote design education as a solution to bridge the gaps seen in the existing education systems. Nigel Cross famously described design as a “third area of education,” pointing to the important role that design has in bridging the humanities and sciences. By seeing design as a fundamentally prosocial interdisciplinary activity, educators and policy makers have an opportunity to leverage the power of design to raise up future generations of human beings.

Given that design is relatively new compared to other disciplines, there is a lack of resources and field work experience existing. Thus, a concept mapping method is used to ask the research question to current design educators, “How do current design educators conceptualize design education for teens?” Using this mixed methods approach, an up-to-date conceptual framework for design education is developed, which can then guide the planning of a scalable design curriculum for secondary schools and alternative ways to make design education more accessible to the adolescent teens. The outcomes are examined in context of the larger discourse on design education as a whole, where we reflect upon the discipline from a critical point of view to envision an updated approach to design education. It is an important moment to address the secondary school education curriculum during this time as educators, designers, and policy makers are coming together.

Table of Contents

1.1. Personal Perspective
1.2. Purpose of Study
1.3. Research Design
1.4. Research Questions

2.1. Defining ‘Design’ in Design Education
2.1.1. History and Etymology of Design
2.1.2. Definitions of Design Design as Aesthetics Design as Problem-Solving Design as Pinnacle of Human Achievement
2.1.3. Section Summary
2.2. Design Education
2.2.1. What Do We Need to Teach?
2.2.2. Why Do We Need to Teach the Teens?
2.2.3. Who Should Teach Design?
2.2.4. How Should We Teach Design? Learning-by-Doing Project-Based Learning Tactile Learning Learning through Play
2.2.5. Section Summary

3.1. Reflexivity
3.2. Sampling and Recruitment
3.3. Participants
3.4. Procedure

4.1. Understanding of Design
4.2. Components of Design Education
4.3. Barriers to Implementing Design Education
4.4. Way Forward

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