Please sir, can we design some more?

A school desk that generates electricity from the restless energy of children, an anti-bullying robot, a ‘worry box’ app and a social enterprise cyber café were among 10 ideas selected to go forward to a design jam from 250 ideas submitted by more than a 1000 pupils in the Schools Design Challenge run by V&A Dundee.

It was run as a pilot for S1 pupils in Dundee and Angus and it is hoped that it will become a national event when the museum opens in 2018: “The V&A is for all of Scotland,” said Sarah Saunders, head of learning and engagement at V&A Dundee. “The response to the pilot was really quite incredible. It was so hard to choose the 10 ideas where pupils were then teamed with a professional designer.

“The aim was to use design thinking – so not necessarily the traditional notion of designing a product or service, but a process that could be applied across all subjects and aspects of school life. We worked with Education Scotland and we did professional development with the teachers so they could use that method, which was great.

‘It became like a piece of research’

“We chose S1 as the children are just starting a new school, thinking about their environment, and was clear the children had put a lot of thought and work into their ideas. What emerged from all the ideas were definite trends in terms of what challenges were addressed by children, which we hadn’t anticipated, so it also became like a piece of research.”

The design jam was an all-day event where each team worked with a professional designer, using design process and a range of materials to develop their idea and create a prototype. During the day, pupils also had the chance to go in to the Design Diary Room and chat about their idea, how they came up with it, what it was like working with a designer and how they were finding the day. At the end each team presented to the whole group, discussing the process, solutions and designs they created.

Harnessing children’s creativity

“Some schools are taking their ideas forward into practice, but one of the things we want to achieve next is finding a way of support the transition of these great ideas from just being ideas, into real solutions for the challenges that were identified by the children. We have some great companies in the city, particularly in digital, and there are things there that could be taken forward.

“The work we did with teachers, the face-to-face team children with designers and the films we made of the children talking about their design challenges – where they are just so articulate in talking about the approaches they took – are really a great resource which we hope could be replicated regionally so that it can become a national challenge.”

The cyber café was created by Grove Academy, the ‘worry box’ app by Morgan Academy, the anti-bullying robot by St Paul’s RC Academy in Dundee and the desk by Webster’s High School in Angus.

The importance of creative thinking

“As an art and design teacher, I spend a lot of time building up skills like drawing and painting,” said Sandy Hope, the V&A’s schools development officer. “And when I came to the V&A two years ago it made me think do we use creative methodologies, like design thinking, enough with children.

“Because the way we approached this was for children to have the kind of discussion that the average design practice sits down to have every day. And we found that the children developed absolutely amazing things. Children who had never imagined themselves to be creative were coming out with very creative ideas, because they weren’t bound in by skills and they were being asked relevant questions by designers to help their thinking.

Building confidence with design

“For example with the ‘worry app’, they went through the process of story-boarding the steps that a pupil might take in communicating concerns and how, potentially, a guidance teacher might be able to pick up on problems occurring at a much earlier stage.

“The children came up with fantastic stuff, showing the various pieces of logic on presentation boards of how you could interact with the app. And the design jam was an amazing event, with the children, the designers, a camera crew, a room where children could share their reflections on the process Big Brother-style, and then at the end they presented.

“I’ve never seen children of that age so confident in presenting because by having a facilitator with them through the day they got really caught up and were not afraid to share what they had achieved.”

While the V&A prepares to take the challenge national, Hope has finished his secondment to the museum and will be taking what he has learnt back to classes at Craigie High School in Dundee.