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Avoiding Rote Design: Using Inquiry To Keep Creativity In The Design Process

Avoiding Rote Design: Using Inquiry To Keep Creativity In The Design Process

The power of design as a pedagogical tool has been increasingly acknowledged across disciplines in education. Once seen as limited to the realm of Art, educational approaches such as Maker and STEAM have embraced design as a crucial element to engaging, personalized learning in traditionally structured courses such as Science and Math. The risk facing educators is that design, rather than providing a rich opportunity for empathy, flexibility and creativity, becomes a repetitive, rote action.

Design is a form of knowing-in-action that results from generative thinking. This kind of thinking is hard and not immediately visible to those not well versed in design theory. In support of design as pedagogy, there have been many well-articulated descriptions of the ‘design process’. IDEO offers an accessible 5-step process that moves through a progression of discovery, interpretation, ideation, experimentation and evolution. This connected series of design steps includes a linear progression from challenge to result. These defined process supports have made significant positive contributions to expanding design as pedagogy to creative novices. Herein also lies the risks for educators; when the design process becomes a series of repetitive, ordered actions, it has also become a formula no different than a2+b2=c2 and the results will be equally predictable.

Art school provided me a very different approach to design; one that included collaborative inquiry as a check on the risks of a rote design process. None of my professors articulated for us a creative process, instead they constantly asked us to reflect and participate in group dialogue on how our ideas and products were evolving. This intense collaborative questioning and metacognitive approach made visible our individual processes. In this way collaborative inquiry provided an opportunity for the status quo to be interrupted through a shared act of knowledge creation. By collectively examining our individual and situational design processes we were participation in a form of inquiry that constantly challenged the risk of a rote process.

How can we support design as pedagogy differently? Shifting focus from the defined process to the educational environment is key. Students learning through design need an environment of collaboration, positivity and possibility. Kelly (2016) offers an powerful description of the benefits of such an educational setting; “Comprehensive creative development within a supportive, collaborative environment empowers each participant with the capacity and tools to act to fulfill aspirations borne out of hopefulness” (p.34). Process and environment should not be viewed as competing, but complementary pieces that together offer students the greatest, authentic learning potential from a design as pedagogy approach.


Kelly, R. (2016). Creative development: Transforming education through design thinking, innovation, and invention. Canada: Brush Education.

­IDEO. Design thinking for educators. http://

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Aug 12 02:37

What a unique perspective! Using inquiry in design to keep ideas original and innovative. Collaboration and reflection are key to break out of rote design and the the rote process of creating. I'm curious to find out in this scenario, how would you assess their creativity? Creativity is becoming refined and associated with problem solving and innovation, rather than associated with the arts. Since creativity is subjective, I sometimes find it difficult to assess students on a large scale. I usually take formative assessments of their learning process and focus on their growth, rather than a final product.
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