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Turning kids on to the power of design

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Want to read something hopeful? Last month in Melbourne, Australia, as part of the AgIdeas conference, Ken Cato put 1,000 Melbourne elementary school-aged children and 100 designers from around the world together in a room at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre. The task? Inject the power and possibility of a future in design into school children by teaching them how to be design thinkers in 90 minutes.

I was skeptical. And yet every one of my kids developed design solutions in under an hour and a half. From puzzled to engaged, the children developed exciting and creative solutions to everyday problems in their own lives. After a plenary address by Ken about how every hour of every day is filled with design, each adult designer was paired with a table of 10 children (and some school teachers to get in the way as well).

I started out asking my kids to come up with a list together of what they were dissatisfied with in their lives (dentists, dead batteries). We then chose our favourite to tackle as a team (the frustration of devices running out of power: from Nintendo DS to electric cars), and then started dreaming, ideating, sketching…

David and his group hard at work

The result of this remarkable exercise was a hall bursting with creative energy, channeled into one concept poster created by each child. The solutions ranged from the realistic to the fanciful to the heart-warming (downloadable batteries, external memory storage for Alzeimers’ patients, better firefighting equipment for the next Melbourne fires). However, for this exercise, the most important outcome was not the feasibility of the solutions, but rather the awakening of the power of design thinking in young minds, as well as the recognition amongst the adults as to how swiftly they “got it.”

These cardboard sheets (which had been pre-slotted to fit together into a structure) were then immediately gathered and built into a huge sculpture in the main lobby of the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre: to the amazing power of design thinking. The designers, the teachers, and the students themselves were all amazed about what they had created in such a short period.

The idea boards were preslotted and assembled into a display

You could see the kids transformed with the recognition of how design could easily be part of their individual and collective futures. These children were a testament to how the future of our world is our common design project.

An idea to solve the problem of batteries dying at inconvenient times

Thank you Ken, and the entire remarkable AgIdeas team. It’s just one more aspect of this unparalleled conference that is arguably the world’s longest running excellent design event.

Visit AgIdeas for more information. I’ll tell you more about the adult part of this amazing gathering in a future post.

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Reviewed August 20, 2012

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