Five Things Educators Could Learn from Designers


Royan Lee tweeted a recommendation about design. It had me thinking about how intrigued I have been of the concept of design in our world. I've been reading books and listening to podcasts about product design, web design, photography, marketing design and visual design.

I'm finding that these books and podcasts have been changing the way I think about teaching. Sometimes the most relevant work for a teacher isn't a teaching book. I don't dislike educational books. It's just that lately, I tend to be drawn toward story-telling and creativity and the application of ideas from outside the edu-sphere.

So, here are five things that educators could learn from designers (I use this term loosely):

  1. Relationships Matter: While education often treats students as consumers of knowledge, designers often treat consumers as people in a relationship. It is, in a sense, user-centered. There is a dark side to this. Sometimes design and marketing become methods for tricking people. Sometimes they help lead to a sense of selfishness and narcissism  Still, I think the focus on the user would make a difference in education. What kind of experience are we creating for students?
  2. A Focus on Observation: As I read books and blogs by designers, I am struck by the need for observation and for the recognition of context. I see this in writing as well. There is a sense that what we design needs to be relevant and rooted in a context. 
  3. Understanding the Intangibles: Designers often deal with paradox, negative/positive space, the influence of space, the visual elements, the blend of form and function. I think we could learn a thing or two about these ideas in planning lessons, constructing schools and designing classrooms.
  4. Thinking Holistically: What does this make people think? Feel? Do? I'm wondering what it would look like to plan lessons where we think about how students think, what they feel and how they respond. 
  5. Experimenting: There is a sense in design that we have to experiment, that things can be messy and that creativity is critical to making anything worthwhile. I find it odd that designers, who should be focussed on a product are often focussed on the process, instead. Meanwhile, teaching is often treated like a product rather than the messy process that it is.