44 posts categorized "Design"

July 19, 2015

The unknown unknowns - test out your ideas

Unknown Unknowns

Not knowing what you don't know is one of the most troublesome concepts of living in an information rich time poor world. And for educators, who have been used to knowing a lot about some stuff for the past century, it proves an elusive concept in my Masters programme and in workshops that I lead around the world.

I've just kicked off teaching my second year of Charles Sturt University's subject on Designing Spaces for Learning (you can follow the course hashtag to see what we're up to 16 weeks). Without any exceptions, this concept of unknown unknowns is one of the toughest for people to get, especially when they get their heads into the research behind it, such as C-K Theory

Designing the unknown | C-K Theory Presentation from CGS Mines ParisTech on Vimeo.

While it's vital that my Masters students read the research, to really "do their homework" I set the first week's assignment in the real world. Every student must make an actual change to their learning environment within 10 days of starting the subject, and note the impact that the change has had. Sometimes, folk lack some inspiration. Here are two great things any educator could try in their learning spaces when they get back to school, or to their office, or their library. From Inc. Magazine, these two ideas encapsulate what it means to get out those unknown unknowns:

Play Anthropologist

How do you choose the environment that's best for your team? Forget asking them and try watching them instead, suggests Kuske:

"The problem with asking is, if people don't know it's an option, they're not going to give it to you as an answer. But when you watch their behaviors, you see no one ever uses those four spots over there but the couches are always busy. Or hey, why do you leave every other day? That would give [a small business owner] a lot of clues to what's right for their particular company."

Forget One Person Equals One Desk

Think you need one desk per team member? Think again. Kuske says mobile technology has rendered this idea obsolete, which is good news for cash-strapped small-business owners--it frees up money for more creative space design.

"Part of the cost structure everyone has is they make this assumption of a desk per person, but with mobile work, when you walk into most places, how many of those desks are actually used at any given moment? Not many," he says.

In Turnstone's experience often up to 60% of desks can go.

February 21, 2015

Crazy, stupid... innovation. The imperfect perfection of Tower Bridge #28daysofwriting

I've had a lovely week on holiday down in London with the family, being proper tourists. Under the dreich weather of Monday we ventured Thames-side and towards the terrifying but fun seethrough walkways of Tower Bridge. Along the side of the walkways were photographs of some of the world's great bridges, together with some of the history about how this iconic bridge came to be.

What did we learn?

This landmark, required to cope with the overwhelming population growth on either side of the river and increased river traffic to the upper parts of the Thames, was borne out of many, mostly failed, prototypes, most in the form of sketches.

Thank goodness we didn't stop at the first prototypes submitted to the public competition. The dual lock system would hardly have helped with the drastically increasing river traffic of the industrial revolution:

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And a system of hydraulic elevators would have failed in the other sense, not really foreseeing 2015's automotive traffic needing a quick north-south crossing:

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Some designers simply did without a bridge and went for the tunnel - perfect for traffic throughput in the longer term and not disruptive at all to the river traffic. In the end, though, it was feasibility that killed these tunnel ideas off - the runways required to descend human and horse-drawn traffic into them were so long that they ate up most of the land either side of the river:

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As the final designer was chosen, even his first drafts were off the mark on the aesthetic side:

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In the end, the rules for killing ideas and honing the kernels of interesting ideas down haven't changed since the bridge's completion in 1894 and today, as I describe them in my bookdesirability (do they want or need it?), feasibility (can we do it?) and viability (should we do it?).

The result, is an imperfect perfection that we recognise in an instant:

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February 14, 2015

The school design process is broken. Isn't it? #28daysoflearning

Flexible Furniture - really?

I've been shown hundreds of 'flexible learning spaces' over the years, and none of them are any more flexible than the addition of a wheel here and there might allow. In fact, if you look on Google for 'flexible learning spaces', the above panoply of wheel-laden MDF and plastic is what you discover. Now, I'm all for the wheel - a marvellous invention for which we still find a great use.

However, the humble wheel is not the basis of flexible learning.

We need to stop spending billions on school spaces, technological and physical, that respond to a brief about learning that reinforces the (mistaken) understandings about what makes great learning experiences still held by many architects and the commissioners of new learning spaces.

I'm preparing a new talk on designing spaces for learning, based on NoTosh's work in helping school innovators, leaders and architects to move beyond the current clichés of "flexible learning":

Learning space design and construction has never been a more pressing issue for schools in both state and independent/private sectors. Even those with small or no budgets are seeking to renovate and constantly improve the learning environment to better harness our growing understanding of what makes for strong learning, and the ever-changing technology options that we face.

And yet, most of our multi-million dollar decisions are based on anecdote and seeking to emulate or synthesise what others have done, with little research or questioning “why” before the budget is allocated, the masterplan produced, and the work on design begins.

In this keynote, Ewan McIntosh, founder of global creative and learning consultancy NoTosh, and Subject Coordinator at Charles Sturt University’s Designing Spaces for Learning Masters, sets the scene for what’s working, what’s not, and where the most innovative learning space design might want to head. Above all, how can our learning space help us to raise attainment and better engage learners in a more current, engaging form of learning?

The traditional process of deciding a new space is required, writing a brief, commissioning an architect to create a masterplan, involving the community in the masterplan creation and the subsequent phases of build is, frankly, the wrong one. It cannot, by definition, be user-centred. The users are involved far too late in the day. The architect needs to know the bid is worthwhile going in for. The commissioner needs to know the budget in order to write a brief which, by default, adds a constraint that, for most architects' masterplans, leads to a different set of pastel shades with which to paint the now de facto glass, steel, atrium and, yes, 'flexible' spaces for all that wheel-endowed furniture.

This fault-line strikes most design - the designer is nearly always at the centre of the process, rarely the people who will use the design. Even in so-called 'human-centred design' practice, you'll find it's the designers, not the users, who end up doing the synthesis, coming up with the ingenious ideas to 'solve their problems'. I'm a firm believer in bringing users into the design process. I don't think designerly skills are that specialist that they cannot be taught, in time, to better prepare the ground for a design.

And when you're going to spend $40-80m on a new build, that investment of time and effort is worth it, to get it right for the users' needs.

There are some examples of people getting it right, or at least righter. Dear Architect is a joyous document, written and designed by the students of one generation to build a space for the next group to come up to Walker's "The Works". By designing the brief, by doing the lion's share of the design before the architects even get sight of it, these students and teachers have gone a long way to changing their existing practice, too. Just by envisioning where they'd like to be, helps shape a move from the status quo to something new in the teaching and learning, new building or not.

The talk has a way to go to move beyond rant (like this) and into the research that I uncovered in writing the Masters course. And it has even further to go before a 16 week course can become a 20 minute punchy, inspiring talk. But the basic premise is one I'd like to bounce around with educators - is this a process, behaviour and frustration you recognise?

February 13, 2015

Would you rather look smart or be smart? #28daysofwriting

 

Reggie Watts breaks me up every time I hear the beginning of this TED Talk. It's funny because, so many times before, I've heard this kind of faux-erudite nonsense from self-proclaimed intelligentsia, in an unfunny context. It comes from people who want to look smart, instead of just being smart. Click play and read along...:

"... and that's one of the things that I enjoy most about this convention. It's not so much, as so little as to do with what everything is. (Laughter) But it is within our self-interest to understand the topography of our lives unto ourselves. (Laughter) The future states that there is no time other than the collapsation of that sensation of the mirror of the memories in which we are living. (Laughter) Common knowledge, but important nonetheless. (Laughter) As we face fear in these times, and fear is all around us, we also have anti-fear. It's hard to imagine or measure. The background radiation is simply too static to be able to be seen under the normal spectral analysis. But we feel as though there are times when a lot of us -- you know what I'm say'n? But -- you know what I'm say'n? Cuz, like, as a hip hop thing, you know what I'm say'n, TED be rock'n -- you know what I'm say'n. Like so I wrote a song, and I hope you guys dig it. It's a song about people and sasquatches -- (Laughter) -- and other French science stuff. That's French science. Okay, here we go. ♫

Watts is then just smart.

Would you rather look smart or be smart? For the past decade I've been a fiendish reader of all things simplicity, especially the art of making complex ideas simple. I've often been off the mark on that one, but not for wont of trying. I take solace from the fact that most policy on education, most curricula, most education research is written in such a way as to render its content useless for the people who need to understand it most.

One way writers aim for simplicity is to pace themselves against readability scores. Andy Maslen, copywriter genius featured in yesterday's post, has just fist-bumped himself with a lifetime best score of 98.2 for readability of some copy he wrote. The other end of the spectrum is just as amusing. Marcel Proust's Swann Way has one sentence whose score is -515.1: 

"But I had seen first one and then another of the rooms in which I had slept during my life, and in the end I would revisit them all in the long course of my waking dream: rooms in winter, where on going to bed I would at once bury my head in a nest, built up out of the most diverse materials, the corner of my pillow, the top of my blankets, a piece of a shawl, the edge of my bed, and a copy of an evening paper, all of which things I would contrive, with the infinite patience of birds building their nests, to cement into one whole; rooms where, in a keen frost, I would feel the satisfaction of being shut in from the outer world (like the sea-swallow which builds at the end of a dark tunnel and is kept warm by the surrounding earth), and where, the fire keeping in all night, I would sleep wrapped up, as it were, in a great cloak of snug and savoury air, shot with the glow of the logs which would break out again in flame: in a sort of alcove without walls, a cave of warmth dug out of the heart of the room itself, a zone of heat whose boundaries were constantly shifting and altering in temperature as gusts of air ran across them to strike freshly upon my face, from the corners of the room, or from parts near the window or far from the fireplace which had therefore remained cold—or rooms in summer, where I would delight to feel myself a part of the warm evening, where the moonlight striking upon the half-opened shutters would throw down to the foot of my bed its enchanted ladder; where I would fall asleep, as it might be in the open air, like a titmouse which the breeze keeps poised in the focus of a sunbeam—or sometimes the Louis XVI room, so cheerful that I could never feel really unhappy, even on my first night in it: that room where the slender columns which lightly supported its ceiling would part, ever so gracefully, to indicate where the bed was and to keep it separate; sometimes again that little room with the high ceiling, hollowed in the form of a pyramid out of two separate storeys, and partly walled with mahogany, in which from the first moment my mind was drugged by the unfamiliar scent of flowering grasses, convinced of the hostility of the violet curtains and of the insolent indifference of a clock that chattered on at the top of its voice as though I were not there; while a strange and pitiless mirror with square feet, which stood across one corner of the room, cleared for itself a site I had not looked to find tenanted in the quiet surroundings of my normal field of vision: that room in which my mind, forcing itself for hours on end to leave its moorings, to elongate itself upwards so as to take on the exact shape of the room, and to reach to the summit of that monstrous funnel, had passed so many anxious nights while my body lay stretched out in bed, my eyes staring upwards, my ears straining, my nostrils sniffing uneasily, and my heart beating; until custom had changed the colour of the curtains, made the clock keep quiet, brought an expression of pity to the cruel, slanting face of the glass, disguised or even completely dispelled the scent of flowering grasses, and distinctly reduced the apparent loftiness of the ceiling."

I'll admit this now. I've not read the book. Nor have I actually read the sentence that I just copied and pasted here. Why? Because it's not really the point of this post.

The point of this post is to place an intellectual earworm in your mind, ready for Monday morning, or the next time you turn finger to keyboard, pen to paper, to convince anyone to do anything. No-one cares how smart you try to show yourself to be,  how smart your strategy might look, how smart your tech programme appears to be. They care how smart all of it really is, meaning your job is to share it in as simple a way as possible.

(The readability score of this blog post, without Proust, is 80. #fistbump)

February 02, 2015

Angostura Bitters and the mistakes we live by - #28daysofwriting

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Last Friday the legendary Creative Director Gerry Farrell gave a talk about all things 'ugly', and many stories revolved around how we deal with failure, or apparent failure. In one story he talked about Angostura Bitters, an alcoholic mixer with which I had a brief relationship during a passing phase of enjoying the ladies' drink "Long Vodka". 

In the early days of the drink, the two brother team who created it decided to get recognition for their new drink by entering a contest. In an efficiency move, one was charged with choosing the best bottle for the job, the other brother placed in charge of the label production.

One small mistake: they didn't communicate on the size of anything.

When the bottle came back with a label that was far too big for the bottle, it was too late to fix. They entered the competition regardless which they promptly lost. However, one judge remarked about their "signature labelling", and the rest is history. Ever since, they have kept that original  label, too big for the bottle with too much text on it.

In most creative organisations (including schools), the 'mistake' is what kills the idea before it even gets a chance to compete. Releasing even imperfect ideas, like a blog post rushed out in 28 minutes one morning, is better than ditching the whole damned thing. And we invent lame excuses for not creating / releasing / writing publicly. If I were to replace any of your school language with the Angostura story we'd end up with:

  • Who'd be interested in (this drink)?
  • I've spent all this time thinking about making (a drink) but I don't think people will try it.
  • (The bottle) is the wrong platform for (this drink) - we need to wait until we buy the right one.
  • The boss won't like (the drink) that I've made. Better I keep it quiet, never let anyone drink it, than go let him taste it first.
  • OK, the boss hates (my drink) - it lost the competition - so we'd better throw in the towel. 
  • If I don't get permission to make (great drinks) then I just won't try it.
  • I've got too many (drinks) ideas to choose which one to make first. So I'll do nothing.

I could go on. These excuses take seconds to come up with. Actually doing something takes a lot longer.

This kick up the backside, that no-one will make your ideas happen for you, is the very thing I go into depth in, on my new book How To Come Up With Great Ideas.

December 01, 2014

Flexible space? Remove your tables and desks...

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"Put a wheel on it!" This is the phrase that has my eyes rolling back several times over when people think they are creating a 'flexible' learning or working space. Flexibility requires flexibility of thought as much as furniture, and the one piece of furniture that says "you only have one thing to do" is the hallowed desk. Offices organise hierarchies with them; schools get locked into 19th century style timetables with them. If only you could get rid of the desks at the touch of a switch....

During the day, this Amsterdam design studio looks like a typical workspace. But at 6 p.m., someone turns a key, and all of the desks suddenly lift up into the air, with computers and paperwork attached. The floor clears, and the space turns into something new.

The large shared desks are attached to the ceiling with steel cables, and use a mechanism from large theatre productions to lift everything up and down. During work hours, the desks balance on rolling cabinets to keep them at the correct height and steady. When the work day is over, the whole room can be cleared in a couple of minutes.

November 26, 2014

Inside Out Thinking Down Under - provocation for learning

Provocations lead to deep, broad learning, and students tend to learn more, faster as a result. I've been showing educators how this is so, and how to do it, for the past five years with my motley crew. New Zealand educator Rob Ferguson woke me up this morning with a tweet, about how a provocation (the video, above) led to his students not just "doing art" for their 10th Grade assessments, but "doing art" to make a difference, as part of a global movement of artists:

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This might seem simple, but at play is some good, deep thinking. The provocation, through the video clip, comes at the beginning of learning, along with many other resources and content sources in an immersion that will contradict, delight, frustrate and generate a discord. This is not PBL where the teacher creates just one problem or open-ended 'essential' question, but a more realworld scenario where conflicting and provocative takes on several subject matters create confusion and discord. This discord is what sets students off to "problem-find" for themselves, seeking the genuine core of the many problems and many potentially 'essential' questions being presented. Having synthesised down to their own problem, or "how might we" statement, students will set out to ideate and prototype their solutions to the problem, or their way of showing off what they have learned. Often the ingredients used in the provocation will reappear in the prototypes, of which the photo above is one example.

Simple on the surface, deep, complex, frustrating, confusing learning on the underbelly: that is what we mean by design thinking for learning. And not a 3D printer or robot in sight!

You can read more about the use of provocation to create innovation in your school in my latest book, How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen.

July 27, 2014

Why not?, and the power of getting on with it

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We are all artists. But not all of us should exhibit.

So says John Hegarty in "There Are No Rules", which I continue to dip into during my break in Tuscany. I laughed when I read this line, because, in my own drawing/sketches case, it's too true. We can all be creative, but not all creative produce is equally stop-you-in-your-tracks creative. The thing is, you don't know until you start to create, whether or not it's going to be worth exhibiting. You've just got to start. And this is why starting is so hard - we can be fearful that what we produce will not be worth exhibiting, so we don't even bother to start it off.

But when I'm on holiday, I don't care so much about what other people think. Most tourists display this characteristic, with their clothing choices perhaps, or their behaviour in the bars on the Southern Spanish coast. I display this characteristic in "having a go" at things I'm normally afraid of wasting time on: writing, drawing and sketching.

I tend to create more on holiday than I do during the working year, the audiences being smaller (Facebookers are also on holiday, the readership lower, the conferences closed for another season) and the canvas being less daunting. One of my favourite holidayish things to do is to draw on paper placemats before my meal arrives, using my daughters' coloured pencils to create whatever comes to mind. I've spent this week on honing my horses skills, learning how to draw them again (when I was 3, I could draw a good horse, jumping over a hedgerow).

During the working year, all of this would draw a simple question: "Why, Ewan?". But during holidays, no-one questions WHY I want to draw horses. On placemats.

It's the distinct lack of "why?", in fact, and the implied criticism that seems to come with those three letters, that relaxes me, helps me concentrate, helps me focus my efforts on one thing, and doing it best I can, and often a little bit better than that, in fact. No devil's advocate. No "have you thought about doing cats instead?". No "why?".

Just a "why not...?"

Cross-posted to the fabulous NoTosh Facebook wall.

You can pre-order my new book, to be released in August: How To Come Up With Great Ideas And Actually make Them Happen.

July 13, 2014

Launching a new Masters: Designing Spaces for Learning #inf536

When most people find out that they are in line to create a new physical or virtual environment for their school, few have really driven deep into what the research says, and how it might pan out in practice. And, with deadlines in place, and architects producing their "masterplans" based on what they have been able to squeeze out of school communities, the clock is ticking too fast in most cases to begin that learning journey in a timely fashion.

School principals, deputies, librarians and innovator educators can base multi-million dollar decisions on hearsay, gurus' say-so, and what the Joneses have done with their school. For the initial cohort of students on our inaugural Masters subject on Designing Spaces for Learning at CSU (Charles Sturt University), the story will be very different.

Today marks the opening of this special Masters course that I've been writing for the past eight months for CSU, along with my boss/mentor Judy O'Connell. I'm not an academic by nature, so it's been a learning experience for me to get into the lecturer mode, and work out how to turn a significant body of research into tangible activities that our Masters students can undertake to explore and discover for themselves how research might translate into new practices.

I have high hopes that these students will make some headway into moving the education community away from a few, high profile conferences, speakers and coffee table books on "cool" or "audacious" learning spaces, to new understandings borne of a wide body of research into space design, the processes we can use to co-design, and why we say we want the kind of learning we do.

Above is my introduction video welcoming students. It's a welcome to you, too, to dip into as much of the material that leaks out of this Masters as possible. Students will have private forums and blogs where they can work out prototypes of thinking they might not yet be prepared to share with the wider world, but there are public spaces where students are being encouraged over the next 16 weeks to share what their insights might be.

There is a Flickr group, and a Google+ group where most of their more polished thinking will eventually end up, linking to their individual blogs where we can. In addition, the Twitter hashtag #inf536 is beginning to get moving, too.

Join the fray where you can - and feel free to disagree with this initial provocation, armed with your research and practice, of course! Share examples of schools which have been built on research and practice that you know, and feel free to point out examples which did not work out as expected too.

March 29, 2013

Help! Missing: trust in young people

I'm currently attempting some "holiday" in France, but the downtime has had my brain whizzing with sights that are more or less unfamiliar, certainly not from the time when I lived here over a decade ago or from my wife's own upbringing.

One such thing is what you can observe in the photo I took in a book shop in a city centre mall. This was the third shop we'd been into where we observed the same pattern:

Children and teenagers, though never adults, would diligently and without having been told to, take their bags to the entrance and dump them in a pile before going about their shopping.

I remarked that in pretty much any other country, a) the bags would be stolen within minutes, or b) they'd be removed as a bomb threat, and almost certainly c) any young person asked on entering a store to leave their bag would cry foul, civil liberties and assumptions of innocent-until-caught-with-a-loot-of-school-supplies (this was a stationery and book shop; hardly the stuff of hardened crack heads or hungry desperadoes).

France is certainly struggling at the moment. Her economy is dying, her politicians panicking, her entrepreneurs leaving by their hundreds every week on the Eurostar.

But success might be more likely to appear some day soon if it can do one thing for the taxpayers, citizens and workers of tomorrow: trust them as equal citizens in a Republic built on liberté, égalité and fraternité.

Help! Missing: trust in young people

About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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