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Future Proofing Your Son | Innovation in Design

Imagining the Future

Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, ‘The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of bigger ideas, never returns to its original size.’ This one quote forms part of the foundations of every unit of work that we develop in design. Design or the older title of Technology Studies has a unique point of difference in comparison to other subjects in that it challenges students to push the boundaries of what they design and make and in doing so, expand their thinking to bigger ideas.

Design also ties in with the values of the Edmund Rice educational ethos of accepting students from all backgrounds and social structures. A well designed unit of study gives students of all skills and ability levels the opportunity to push their personal perceived boundaries and explore outcomes they would otherwise believe unachievable.

So how do we do this? When I was a student (yes I can still remember back that far) I was given a set project that had a set production procedure using a set number of hand tools and if every step was followed correctly I came out with a product that was identical to the teachers (but with considerably more putty). This was a dream for some teachers and a nightmare for some students, particularly students who wanted more than a spice rack or tea leaf spoon. There was no connection to community, social, environmental or personal needs because there wasn’t enough time to develop the skills students would need to make what they could design, “It just wasn’t practical”. Todays schools no longer have those constraints and the curriculum has given teachers the freedom to explore topics and solutions that were beyond the scope of our predecessors.

Modern units of work give students the opportunity to explore their own response to a design problem, and how they choose to make it. Students are taught a combination of 3D modelling and traditional hand skills which are then resourced with appropriate equipment. One unit of work students are given is the Flat pack challenge. This unit gives students 2 pieces of ply which they must utilise to solve a personal or community based problem. The first step gives students the chance to come up with solutions that go beyond the obvious and gives them ownership of what they make. The second step is the choice of how to make their solution which may be traditional manufacturing, CAD CAM manufacturing or a combination of both. This freedom of manufacturing techniques gives students the opportunity to explore design solutions they could not make within the time constraints of the subject and thus expand their minds to bigger ideas and hopefully more adventurous solutions.

Now that we have a better understanding of where Design has evolved from and is heading towards I will leave you with another quote from Malcolm Gladwell which eludes to the ultimate goal that Design teachers hold for their students:

Innovators have to be open. They have to be able to imagine things that others cannot and be willing to challenge their own preconceptions. They also need to be conscientious. An innovator who has brilliant ideas but lacks the discipline and persistence to carry them out is merely a dreamer … But crucially, innovators need to be disagreeable … They are people willing to take social risks—to do things that others might disapprove of.’

And if the young men of the college challenge preconceptions they may in turn become the innovators of the future and that may lead to a better future for all?

Sean Smith
Head of Design and Industrial Technology