The design notebook – in the classroom

This is the first post of what I hope will be a recurring series – the design notebook – on this blog. The design notebook is intended to be a participatory exercise, a way to engage with your immediate environment. The idea is to jot down, as often as possible, examples of both good and bad design that you encounter. Good design is inspiring and often aesthetically pleasing, while bad design can make one think of ways in which the object can be improved to better fulfill its purpose. Either way, it’s a creative exercise and a wonderful way of becoming more aware of your surroundings. (hint, hint: I accept submissions for the design notebook).

Why is design important? In my mind, design is often connected to the practicality of an object; it should not only highlight the function of an object, but also contribute to it in some way. Good design is good engineering. Consider, for example, the item below, which I have entered into my design notebook:

I saw an example of this classroom desk at the university where I work. After an extensive search, I was able to find a picture of it online. Apparently this kind of desk is not widely used, and yet it’s perfect for the classroom setting. The concept highlighted by this design is the dual swivel. The desk surface is connected by a swivel to the bottom of the chair, and the chair is connected to a stroller-type swivel that allows the whole apparatus to move in any direction. The writing surface can be adjusted to accommodate left-handedness. The caddy at the bottom keeps personal belongings with their owner regardless of where the desk is moved. The compact and functional shape of the swivel desk facilitates a variety of group configurations that would rarely be initiated in a classroom with standard desks because it would be too difficult, too time consuming, and would create a disarray of displaced personal belongings on the floor. Whether or not the desk actually promotes better learning, its design does away with the traditional and rigid classroom formation. Students can select how they are placed in relation to the instructor and in relation to each other, a freedom that enhances the idea that knowledge does not have to be obtained from a central and singular source.

In contrast to poorly designed objects, which prohibit and obstruct, well designed objects enable and encourage. Very often the most brilliant designs are the least noticed because they are so astoundingly simple that one could not comprehend how something could be otherwise.


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