Lockers with charging stations? Why not?
Thumbprint access? Perhaps.
Modular shelving? Yes, please.
These ideas (and more) hatched when Tony Strawhun challenged his Introduction to Design Thinking class to revamp a high school locker.
For weeks, students learned how to ask productive questions, analyze customer needs, market new ideas, test the functionality of prototypes, and more—all part of the research and development lessons that culminated in the locker redesign project.
“It’s the entire R&D process boiled down into a class,” explained Mr. Strawhun.
“We look at the product and process design life cycle from the idea through its application. Once we get to the prototype phase, we test usability and function, and we ask ‘does it fit the needs of the client?’”
Clients in this case included faculty and staff members, as well as fellow students from outside the class, who came with their wish lists, theories on declining locker use, and willingness to explore ideas as wild as lockers with fish tanks (one idea that did not make it to the prototype phase).
Design teams comprising five to six students met their clients in caves and workspaces throughout the Innovation Center. Groups discussed how the increase in online textbooks and the permission to carry heavy duty backpacks to class have contributed to the significant decline in student use of lockers. This led to discussing improvements they could offer. Team members listened, took notes, and practiced the important skill of asking the right questions.
“I think that it was super cool to have a chance to talk with people and try and design something that we use every day and upgrade it,” said Roger Melton ’20.
After identifying client needs and product problems to solve, groups shifted into brainstorm mode. Students drew on movable panels and cave walls with dry erase markers, mapping out ideas and sketching designs. The modular floorplan and furniture of the Innovation Center enabled groups to move around and assemble in various ways as they shifted from talking to drawing to building. As ideas crystallized, students visited the supply table to begin building the prototype.
“I purposely restricted what I put on the table,” said Mr. Strawhun with a conspiratorial smile.
“If I give them too much on the supply table then the solution is obvious. If I don’t give them as much, they have to be inventive and creative,” he adds, indicating the basic office supplies and small hardware like tape, wire, hose clamps, index cards, craft sticks, scissors, and lots of cardboard boxes.
“I specifically wanted them to think out of the box. For example, nothing over there looks like a lock.”
Challenged but undeterred, design teams chose their supplies and moved into prototype construction. Students began to cut, tape, bend, fit, tweak, and adjust materials, and soon dry erase sketches transformed into cardboard models. As the models took shape, several teams returned to the drawing board to rework or rethink their designs, and the models changed accordingly. Next came the client pitch, showcasing how they were able to incorporate client input into functional construction.
Students enjoyed showcasing their creations and demonstrating special features. One locker boasted a pocket door and touted the benefits of a see-through panel that would enhance security with transparent storage. Hooks, message boards, trays, electronic locks, and mini refrigerators were also shared as solution-oriented ideas. Two common themes that emerged were modular shelving and charging stations for phones and laptops. Students want to be able to move things around to customize their space, and having an outlet to recharge electronics could provide students a powerful benefit to using their locker.
Clients left satisfied and inspired, and students cleaned up with a sense of accomplishment and excitement for future lessons. “I might end up doing something like this in the future,” said Roger, who is considering a future in engineering. “I think it’s really cool that we have this class, and I love the material.”
The Introduction to Design Thinking course is in its second year at De Smet Jesuit High School. Mr. Strawhun developed the class incorporating curriculum written by several educational and industry sources, including IDEO, a global design company founded in 1991 that formulated the concept of interaction design (later rebranded as human-centered design). The company has published several books and toolkits related to design thinking, human-centered design, and usability-driven development.
“I tell the boys all the time, this is one class where the teacher is not the smartest person in the room,” said Mr. Strawhun. “I don’t have all the ideas or answers.”
Great ideas and design concepts can come from anywhere, and as Mr. Strawhun routinely reminds the students, it is unlikely that the person with the longest seniority, the fanciest title, or the most education will have all the best ideas.
Roger concluded with appreciation for the ample hands-on learning as well as the variety of other skills he’s gaining. “I definitely think there’s a lot of communication and teamwork,” he said. “You have to work with a team of other people. It’s not just your ideas, it’s theirs, too. It’s a lot of understanding and interpreting what other people want and a lot of research skills.”
As students packed up cardboard prototypes, Mr. Strawhun alluded to a future lesson, a favorite in previous classes: what happens when your user doesn’t use the product the way you intended. “This is an active class,” he said. “They take stuff apart. They put stuff together. They’re going to have fun while they learn.”
Introduction to Design Thinking is one of 11 elective science classes offered at De Smet Jesuit, including Forensic Science, Digital Electronics, 3D Design and Printing, and Robotics. For more information on our science program, please see the Curriculum Guide or contact Dr. Baxendale, Chair of Science Department. To visit our Innovation Center, please contact Kevin Poelker, Principal.