Design thinking: how are goods and services developed?

We recently finished a Year Three unit about goods and services. The entire unit was approached through a framework of design thinking. This blog post will showcase some of the learning highlights from this rich unit of inquiry.

Central Idea: Goods and services are developed to meet the needs of a community

Lines of Inquiry:

  1. The goods and services in our community and where they come from
  2. What is involved in the production of goods and services
  3. Goods and services that can be developed to meet the needs of our community

It is often assumed that the design thinking framework must be implemented towards the end of the unit as a way to apply the knowledge that has first been “frontloaded”. It’s true that knowledge and understanding are essential for effective design, but its acquisition is part of the process, not something that necessarily comes first (notice how the Empathise phase below includes two more verbs: Discover and Understand). Students can be engaged in design projects from the start, adding greater relevance and importance to the unit content.

Below are some highlights from the unit, starting with general inquiries into goods and services, and leading into a specific design opportunity. Keep in mind that this unit was taught through a hybrid learning model and that some of the activities were carried out remotely.

Virtual Design Hunt

You’ll notice that Agency by Design practices appear multiple times throughout this blog post. They have become staple routines in my classroom that can be applied across the curriculum. We kicked off the unit with a Design Hunt. This is a great routine because it encourages students to notice the objects and systems around them. As well as increasing their sensitivity to design, Design Hunts prompt students to question and evaluate designs. In the context of this unit, students considered what goods and services have been designed around school and how/why they were developed.

Masarang integration

Our school works closely with the Masarang Foundation and has supported their sustainability work for many years (click here for more information). The students learnt about palm oil and the environmental impact of these farming and production practices. In doing so, they started to consider the importance of ethical design and balancing our needs with other considerations. This also prompted a discussion about responsible consumption.

Parts, Purposes, Complexities

The Parts, Purposes, Complexities routine encourages students to take a closer look at objects/systems and consider how the parts interact to make them work. Even seemingly simple objects include various parts and complexities. This activity works particularly well when students can physically take objects apart (click here for examples of this). While students learnt remotely, they studied the designed world at home and chose household products to observe and analyse.

We did a similar activity with Ozobots. During this period of COVID-19, the team at Ozobot has developed the Learn Anywhere lesson series to support teachers with remote learning. In particular, their Introduction to Ozobot lesson connects nicely to this unit because it encourages students to take a closer look at Ozobot’s hardware components and think about how it works. I tweaked their lesson to include some additional elements and the familiar language from Agency by Design. This was another opportunity for students to take a closer look at objects and think about how goods are designed and developed.

As mentioned previously, my school has adopted a 1:1 approach to robotics by purchasing an Ozobot for every student (for more information, click here). These are small and portable, allowing students to learn with them from home as well as in school.

Parent guest speaker: Dr. Pao (Parts, People, Interactions)

Next, students learnt about services and how, like goods, they are developed to meet the needs of a community. One of the students’ parents is a psychiatrist and gave an informative presentation about this mental health service and how it works within the wider healthcare system. Students used the Parts, People, Interactions routine to explore the complexities within this industry and develop their systems thinking. Also, while not necessarily connected to the unit, this was an excellent opportunity to discuss the importance of mental health.

Identifying a need in our community

The current pandemic has presented many challenges to the school, local and global communities. These challenges provide students with authentic design opportunities to develop solutions and exercise agency. After brainstorming, students landed on the issue of excessive screen time. Due to remote learning, students and teachers have been online far longer than they normally would. How might we address this issue?

Students sent out a Google Form to their peers in other classes to learn about their experiences and gain some useful insights. The survey data indicated that most other students agreed with the screen time concern, but it also highlighted a range of myths and misconceptions. This was also true of online research. Students struggled to find consistent, reliable information about excessive screen time.

Parent guest speakers: Dr. Lin and Dr. Lau

To cut through all of the noise, myths and confusion, we once again utilised the expertise in our parent community. This allowed students to speak directly with medical professionals who understand the issue. The students asked thoughtful questions and our guest experts provided valuable information. These insights helped students to clearly define the challenge and design suitable solutions.

Defining the challenge and design opportunity

The survey was sent to over one hundred students. After noticing many patterns, we decided to apply those generalisations to one fictional student named Mark. Designing for one user was less overwhelming than trying to please everybody. Although Mark was a made-up student, he represented the real challenges and experiences of the wider VSA community. With Mark in mind, we developed the problem statement and user profile as seen below.

The ‘how might we’ questions were mostly developed in response to Mark’s needs and the medical insights from our guest speakers.

Prototyping and testing

I have implemented a design thinking framework before but haven’t always made the best use of the prototyping and testing phases, usually due to time constraints. But this is a critical part of the design process and I was keen to emphasise that in this project.

The purpose of a prototype is to allow the user(s) to experience the idea, in an efficient and cost-effective way, so that they can provide feedback for further improvement. This often creates a feedback loop and prototypes can become more sophisticated as iterations nudge closer and closer to the final solution.

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Imagine If… and Four Whats

We used a number of routines to support self-reflection and the collection of feedback. First, students used the Imagine If… routine to evaluate their early prototypes and, as the routine suggests, consider ways to make them more effective, efficient, ethical and beautiful. These challenging words needed to be explained, but the students made good use of this routine. Next, students gathered user feedback and organised it using the Four Whats question grid. All of these ideas and suggestions informed later, more sophisticated prototypes.

This was another really enjoyable, design-infused unit. My students are really growing as creative problem-solvers which has been a pleasure to see. I’m learning a lot about design thinking in the classroom and having a great time along the way! More soon.

Please let me know if you have any questions or feedback about this unit.

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  1. I love the way you started the unit by exploring and getting the students interested and engaged. I also think it is great you included parents as guest speakers and hope to include that in my own classroom. You also gave the students time to test, experiment, and explore which is so beneficial for critical thinking and problem solving. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi Olivia,

      Thank you for the kind comment and feedback. I’m so pleased that this post resonated with you. It was a great unit!



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