First Glimpse of Design Thinking in Action


It is kind of hard to describe the feeling of being back in a high school. The sounds of students’ laughter echoing over a seemingly endless wall of lockers, the orchestra of wooden doors slamming, and the screeching of sneakers over a glossy floor is an instant dose of nostalgia. Nothing reminds me of being back in school (as a student or a substitute) like being back in school.

School is like a micro-world with unique a set of realities.

I headed down to East Greenwich high school where I was treated to seeing the design thinking process unfold for the first time via the BIF Student Experience Lab’s School Hackers project. The high school’s leadership team, which included the principal, vice principal, and department directors, were aiming to transform the physical space of an unused classroom to create a human-centered workspace that would foster collaboration and openness without a large budget. BIF experience designers Emma Beede and Kirtley Fisher guided the group through the design thinking process.

I won’t go into the details of what design thinking is, but if you’re interested you can get more information here. Instead I want to take a look at one example as to why it is so amazing.

Why didn’t East Greenwich High just hire some expert design team to come in and recreate the space for them instead of designing it with the help of BIF? It would have undoubtedly freed a lot of time, something the principal and teachers would surely appreciated. The reason, I learned, is because the principal, vice principal, and teachers are the experts of more than just their respective fields; they are the experts of their school.

On one occasion the group was working through the idea of having movable desks, belonging to no one, in hte room they were designing that could be used for any purpose as an alternative to their traditional offices. Although a great solution to creating a collaborative workspace, one teacher questioned, “what about our parent-teacher conferences coming up next month? We need a private space for that.” In agreement, the school leadership team explored other designs that could be both collaborative at times and still give space for privacy when needed.

Who else but them could know that? They know the beat, the flow, and the details that matter at their school. They have insider information that is invaluable to the design process, and because design thinking thrives on experimentation and iteration, they are not stuck with any design that could become completely irrelevant next school year.

I am excited to see what the leadership team at East Greenwich will come up with, and whatever the design is I know that it will be as special and unique as their school.

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