Embedding principles of design

design.jpg  Things of beauty attract our eye, refresh our spirits, calm a troubled moment, and bring joy and inspiration to our lives. 

I would even posit that good design can encourage us to “do better.”

Continuing my thoughts from previous posts about design, I’m contemplating points that Daniel Pink made in Whole New Mind regarding the significance of it.   He writes about a study at Pittsburg’s Montefiore Hospital that demonstrated that patients in well designed rooms have quicker recovery times, and a study at Georgetown University that enhancing a school’s appearance could even increase test scores.

Design really is about communicating something to the receiver–whether it’s the special lilt of a well-put written phrase, or the feeling of luxuriousness that a fine hotel imparts, or the comic turn of a slapstick movie, or the inspiration that society cares enough to make a beautiful learning space for students.  

On Beyond School, there’s been an ongoing discussion about written versus nonwritten communication.  But somehow I still think this all goes back to the idea of the audience and the issue of design.

Sentences and writing are things that are designed.  Presentations are something that are designed.  Videos are designed.   Maybe students don’t realize they are designing something–but there is an element of choice in every thing we create.   And we should scaffold students in understanding that.

For example, you can have written the most elegant of books, but if the publisher picks a poor cover design, chances are, the book will sit on the library shelves and be rarely read.   If you can write the most eloquent of essays but can’t stand before a class and present your ideas, then your communication with your audience is hampered.    If you memorize every joke in the book, but can’t deliver the joke with panache, then the joke falls flat and the message never is conveyed.

The point is, there is design behind everything we should be teaching students.   Yes, truly, they are sometimes struggling to master the basics, but almost all students can respond to the effective design of a story, of a YouTube video, of a superbowl commercial, of a poem, of a painting.   By illustrating the technique–by having conversations about how things are constructed, we really deepen their understanding of something–but we also are giving them important tools for communicating more effectively themselves.

Showing students two items they could purchase like these air cleaners (pictured below) and asking them which is more appealing to them helps them flesh out those ideas about what important intangibles design communicates. (I of course got this idea from Daniel Pink’s discussion of toilet brushes–but these two designs just were begging for me to compare them in the store).

aircondition.jpg        aircondition2.jpg

Which one would you want in your bedroom or kitchen?

So, let students see one another’s projects in progress and see if that inspires them to better work themselves.    Share good presentations with them, good writing with them, good video work with them, good advertising with them–and see what it inspires.  

As one student on David Truss’s blog commented about a wiki project he did with students,

“I thought this was a great project because it was always fun, and when you needed inspiration, it was easy to just click on someone else’s page, and see all the neat stuff that they’ve done, and then it makes you want to make your page just as good (or, it did for me).”

Interesting and good design inspires students to reach farther, to stretch themselves.

Daniel Pink shares some excellent ideas in Whole New Mind for encouraging students to think about how things are designed –like keeping a design notebook, asking students to redesign a product they dislike, looking at magazine layouts, writing about an object they love because of its design, etc.

If writing or making a video or anything our students do is about conveying who they are, then what is really important?   The grammar details will come, the spelling can be fixed, the lingo can work, but if they know what they want to say, and how they want to convey it, their message will come through clearly and with impact.

Daniel Pink shared a quote which summarizes it well: 

“Aesthetics matter.  Attractive things work better.”  (Don Norman, author)

Shouldn’t this be a significant part of Language Arts and information literacy curricula?

2 thoughts on “Embedding principles of design

  1. Carolyn, this is a great post. Dead on. How do we as librarians work the concepts of design into our lessons and out outcomes?

    If you don’t know it, I strongly suggest Robin Williams’s book The Non-Designer’s Design Book. A few basic principles and everyone’s stuff LOOKS a lot better.

    Thanks for the post,


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