“So, maybe I want to design something for my cat,” said Sophia, a member of NYSCI’s Makerspace team, speaking to a room full of children and their families on a Saturday afternoon in November 2019. “My cat really likes going outside, but she’s a hairless cat and it’s getting cold out… so what could I design that might help her stay warm?”

While NYSCI’s business plans for a feline fashion line are neither here nor there, this organic conversation was part of a Design Squad Maker workshop held at the Museum last year. That Saturday, the focus of the workshop was on designing clothing that could be useful to a person (or animal) in a visitor’s own lives. On any other given weekend throughout the program, children might have been presented with a challenge to design something to help with a household chore, or create something to improve their school day. The purpose of these workshops was to introduce children to the design process.
 

What is the “design process?”

The design process is sometimes called the design cycle, the design spiral, or the design compass. Although the names may differ, they all use the same approach. The design process is a series of steps used to come up with solutions to a problem.

  • First, we define a problem. We think of a problem, a need, or something that would make our lives easier or better.
  • Then we brainstorm and plan. We come up with possible solutions, pick our best idea, and make plans. We can draw a diagram of our idea or make a list of things we want to add to our design.
  • Next, we use our diagram to build a prototype, or model, of our design. The prototype should show how our idea works.
  • Finally, we test our prototype. We can try using it, or we can talk with other people about it. They can ask us questions about how it works, if it solves our problem, and what we might do to make it better.
  • If it doesn’t work the way we want it to, we can iterate. That means we can go back to any of the steps in the design process and make changes.

 

Why should I learn the design process?

Coming up with useful solutions to challenging problems is an important part of many STEM fields. Engineers, for example, use the design process every day to figure out solutions to real-world problems, like how big a bridge should be. Learning about the design process can also improve your child’s skills and attitudes – it can encourage perseverance, willingness to accept feedback, and understanding that failure could lead to improvement.

When children are introduced to the design process, they learn the steps involved in planning, designing, and creating solutions. But most importantly, each child finds a problem to solve that is personally meaningful to them. These problems could be big, such as global warming, or a small everyday problem, like having to do a dreaded chore. When children get to make their own decisions about their projects, they learn who they are, and that they can make an impact on their world.

The final step in the design process is to share your creation with others! Sharing is a great way for kids to reflect, get inspiration from other makers, and feel motivated to keep working.
 

How can I get started at home?

WGBH Boston and NYSCI developed some short activities to help children and their families learn about and practice the design process at home:

 

About the Project

These workshops are a part of the Design Squad Maker project, an ongoing partnership between WGBH Boston and NYSCI. The two institutions are working together to develop an app and hands-on workshops that help children and their caregivers work on their own design projects in museums, maker spaces, and at home. The information we’ve collected throughout these early workshops has been invaluable to our research team. We’ve created this blog to share some of what we’ve learned about supporting children through the design process. We hope you find these ideas helpful!

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1811457. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.