The Ken Robinson’s TED talk "Do schools kill creativity?" is simply wonderful, probably the most enriching talk I've seen in my life. In it Ken speaks about creativity and education, pointing how everyone talks about education, but no one focuses on learning methods. He emphasizes the importance of promoting creativity in education through the diversification of subjects, methodologies and teaching processes, he even suggests the diversification of school tests, only to diagnose and guide the interests and potential of the different types of students, but never to standardize culture.
Facing this challenge as professor of design at CENTRO, I test my ability of passing on knowledge by being diverse, dynamic and above all different — characteristics about intelligence on which Ken makes emphasis and how to address it when educating — and thus promoting the potential of each of my students semester to semester.
The most recent course I taught was "Design II" in which we worked on two totally opposite approaches of the work process through asking questions to gain knowledge. The first exercise focused on the possibilities of a material "Designing by doing", as for the second one, we parted from the premise that everything can be improved "Designing better things" — I’ll speak of both exercises below.
Designing by doing starts with the question:
What are the different processes of transformation that a designer can rely on to create objects?
Note! – I said transformation processes, not production processes.
How we as designers can transform matter to create things?
The basic classification I like to make reference is one stated by Ron Arad*:
1) To eliminate Waste – cutting, engraving, turning, grinding, chiseling; e.g. Removing excess material.
2) To mold – injection molding or rotation, to empty or stretch; e.g. Pouring a liquid material into a mold and removing it when hardened.
3) To create Forms – tilting, pressing, hammering, folding; e.g. Shaping a metal sheet.
4) To assemble – bolting, gluing, riveting, welding; e.g. Joining several parts by any means.
5) To Grow – printing, bloating, thickening, adding materials; e.g. Printing parts of an object.
Using wood as a wildcard, through observation, selection, testing and finally the assignment of function and shape, we created objects by doing hundreds and hundreds of small exercises.
Basically students cut, glued, assembled and painted; some even fried in oil, immersed in aromas and put them on the oven small pieces of wood to see what would happen, finding and exalting different possibilities of the material to create a new texture, a new scent or a new application. They practically sketched into small wood chips to explore ideas and concepts.
Finally the excuse was to create a toy that used at least three of the explorations or exercises done previously in a rational manner, and the results were objects that probably wouldn’t have been reached if the initial brief had been "Design a wooden toy".
Designing Better Things, as outlined above, parting from the premise that everything created by man can be improved and upgraded, we asked:
How I can design better things?
— Design for dismantling
— Design that allows repairing
— Design products that are more significant
— Better selection or creation of materials
— Creation of an ecosystem that allows a healthy productive chain of value
Unlike the previous project, here we started from an existing object, in this case a cooking utensil, and performed reverse engineering to see where the materials came from, how they were produced and how they were transported. Also to understand how they were used, sold and discarded by people.
This research exercise opens up the picture to understand the reasons of the entire chain of production that is behind every object, and to identify small or large areas of opportunity that would later be the design brief to solve throughout the project.
Both exercises, although start completely different, meet at the end of the process and, as expected, some students loved getting their hands dirty and going into the workshop. Others considered very logical and practical carrying out that reverse engineering to understand the situation and to address the project in a logical way.
On a final exercise of introspection, they were able to understand the reason behind both cases. They finished the course with a surprise third exercise, strategically named as "Knowing me as a designer", which encourages students to ask themselves the questions: How do I learn best? What are the processes of exploration in which I perform better? Am I analytical and methodical or I prefer free exploration? What is the best way to encourage my creativity and talent to solve logical problems?
Addressing Ken’s speech: “the roll of an educator is to facilitate knowledge”, in my case in design education is important to teach students about materials and production process but is important as well to help them to know themselves, to know their creative values and their intellectual strengths in order to become better designers.