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Getting Started Select Design Task Learn About Design
MOVIE 1:   5 minute 58 seconds
Design a Waterfall

Introduction: Mr. Chan's Garden

The following case study is of a "Best In Boston" hairdresser who has a new interest in life: creating a beautiful garden and waterfall in his backyard. Listen to Mr. Chan talk about the waterfall he designed for his backyard. Even though he has not done formal training, his descriptions contain critical elements of good design thinking. His "yard work" was recently highlighted in an article in the Boston Globe's Sunday Magazine.

Criteria & Constraints

As a teacher, you need to notice when students "talk like designers". One ingredient that makes up good designerly talking involves reasoning about criteria and constraints. Designers have to meet certain goals and observe limitations set by the client and by Mother Nature when devising their solutions. Criteria are the performance requirements of a device or product -- how high it must jump, how hot it must cook, or how far it must travel. Constraints are the limiting conditions to which the design solution must conform.

Noticing when your students talk about criteria and constraints takes training on your part. Point it out to them when they do it. It is come in handy since your students will need to revisit their assumptions about criteria and constraints regularly. You can practice doing this by listening to Mr. Chan. Colored "hotspots" will appear to help you notice when his ideas include thinking about criteria and constraints.

Analogies & Creative Ideas

Another topic important to design involves the origins of good design ideas. Making connections to situations that are related but not identical to the design task at hand can be a key source of innovative ideas. Analogies can be a wellspring of creativity for both ordinary and famous people. Mr. Chan's talk about his waterfall and garden is filled with analogies. The hairdresser tells about how sculpting a garden is like sculpting hair, and how his idea for a waterfall was influenced by his ski trips to the mountains.

As a teacher, you can explain and model how analogies inspire new products, and refer to examples where analogies inspired great designs. Even primary school children can come up with good analogies to help with their designs. Most students, however, do not notice when they make these creative leaps. Try to listen for analogies that your students propose, and mirror them back to your students when you think it appropriate.

Related Readings

Many books have been written about creativity and the use of analogies, and their close cousins, metaphors. Here are a few worth reading: Creating Minds (Howard Gardner, 1993); Metaphors We Live By (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980); and The Mind's Best Work (David Perkins). For analogies in action, a wonderful and fun read is an autobiography of one of the 20th century's greatest physics teachers and physicists, "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!" (1985).

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