Design as a process can play a greater role in the development of learning environments than merely to create the fabric of buildings and learning spaces.
With the ever more complex developments of education in terms pedagogy and application of technologies, let alone approaches to ‘delivering’ education stimulated by government policy, more creative solutions for meeting these demands need to be developed.
None of this is new, and indeed there are good examples around of creative developments in education. Even if it is not possible to reinvent education in one project, which is where may designers and educationalists find themselves.
I was reminded of some work I did more than ten years ago. It was a project for a state sector primary school which was to include a private funded early years childcare component. The government had just changed the legislation to allow state schools to provide private nursery care alongside the state funded nursery provision.
While this project started life as a building design project the initial stage turned into something quite different. Before any building design work was done it was important to sort out how the structure and organisation of the school was going to work given the new context which would see the school receiving money directly from private sources.
In essence the approach was to treat this element of the project as a design problem rather than merely an organisational and staffing one. Partly because it involved the client understanding the implications of running the school this way. Not only did I use visual media and communications such as diagrams and pictures to get a sense of what was intended and what was possible, but as a group we tested and retested ideas in scenarios.
One of the aims of the exercise was to use the design process to probe the interactions between the people, each other and their environment to better understand how the school should best operate. The trick is to look at the interactions over time between people as well as between people and their environment including the physical, technological and pedagogical environment. We were we exploring both the interactions themselves and we were trying to understand how to facilitate them in this context. Thus not only were we designing for interactions, but we were designing interactions themselves.
The idea of designing interactions perhaps goes to the root of any design problem whether it is buildings, products or even organisations. At the start of this project the client, teachers, and others assumed that the ‘design’ would just be a building. It was very satisfying to show that design can play a far wider role than just to create the structure and fabric of a building, or an artifact.