Young designers: future creators

Mr Brendon Thomas, Co-Director Technology Studies Faculty

Let’s start by indulging in some nostalgia. Think back to the time when you were a child immersed in imaginary play; your open mind brilliantly poised and receptive to possibilities and endless adventures: a world more colourful than anything packaged or purchased. Your intrinsic creativity was limited only by your imagination. What you were doing was designing.

As a parent it is a marvellous sight to see one’s own children embark on flights of imaginative fancy, and as educators, watching our girls do this points us towards promising educational methodology that can help lead us to meet some of the big challenges we face in 21st century learning and earning.

While such creative methodologies have long been adopted by our early childhood counterparts, seemingly purposeless and unstructured imaginary play in curriculum at all stages of education can engage learners deeply, fostering flexible, informal and fluid problem solving that does not rely on prescribed rewards, methods or structures. The rendering of their imaginings into concrete, physical forms involves children thinking and designing with their hands — like playing with Lego, sketching with pencils, building prototypes, and in my area of the curriculum, in representing their skills in digital systems, artefacts or physical technologies.

Standardised testing in primary and secondary education is headline news internationally with many respected educationalists agreeing that this type of staple assessment means our young innovators and budding entrepreneurs get less time to push the envelope and action their innate heuristic capacities to solve unrehearsed or complex problems that matter most to them. To put it bluntly, a system which focuses its students on point-in-time, micro-skill testing inevitably compromises their entitlement to practise design thinking and engage design principles to tackle open-ended, big-picture problems. System wide we need more time to sojourn in the depths of design challenge. Creating novel prototypes, digital products and systems, or a combination of all three, requires design thinking and making sense of the complex structures and the methods required to approach them. We cannot measure this easily in high-stakes examinations, and after all, innovation by definition is something that cannot be standardised (Shaffer, 2006).

The education system could be considered more aligned to analytical and convergent processes (Brown, 2009) centered more so on the current priorities and pressures in education that inhibit the creative abilities to flourish in the young (Robinson, 1999). Shaffer (2006) suggests that the academic disciplines of History, English, Math, and Science are not the only way to divide up the world of things worth knowing. He argues that real world innovators have ways of thinking and working that are just as coherent and fundamental as any of the academic disciplines.

There is a myth about creativity and innovation which holds that great ideas leap fully formed from the minds of geniuses (Brown, 2009). In reality, most innovations result from having a good understanding of relational systems, logic and self-discipline. Innovators believe that an idea or venture has real potential to creatively disrupt current trends, improve business models or just to make things better and less complicated for everyone. Innovation also comes through staying with the problem, and working just beyond the boundary of what you can already do (Shaffer, 2006). Designers take risks and confidently use their insight and skills to test competing ideas against one another with the likelihood that the outcome will be bolder (Brown, 2009). Innovation also has a lot to do with mixing curiosity with design process and design thinking and we can integrate this ‘geography of thought’ (Nisbett, 2003) into our school curriculum. To support this, John Cleese once said ‘creativity is not a talent; it is a way of operating’ (1991).

Designers in all industries, through training and experience, develop different lenses through which to see the world (Stokes, 2010). Whether associated with design in creative arts, farming, engineering, law, social sciences or industrial designing, their job is to refine process or product and to simplify complex challenges. Consider world leaders in industrial or user experience and interaction design — Apple, IDEO and Dyson. Their products are simple yet highly effective with a clear link to innovation and disruption within markets. These companies spend a lot of time in design ideation and empathy, getting to know their customers’ needs and undertake comprehensive product testing until they reach excellence in design. From an outsider’s rationalist perspective, it may seem that these designers are merely playing or dreaming, but the proof of this design pudding is in the success that this process has brought to these now globally-renowned outfits.

Proficient skills in design process, human and environmental empathy, ergonomics, isometric and oblique sketching, scaling visual representations, visualising 3D systems, and systems mechanics, fit well not only with world leaders in design, but also with our young job creators of the future. Absorbed in their passions, our young creatives will certainly continue to be intrinsically motivated to be inventive and to stay in the grey of complex problems. It is just a matter of cultivating their passions.


Brown, T. (2009). Change by design. New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Cleese, J. (1991). How to inspire creativity within yourselves. [Video file]. Retrieved from

National Advisory Committee on Creative and Cultural Education (NACCCE). (1999). All our futures: Creativity, culture and education. London: HMSO.

Nisbett, R. (2003). The Geography of Thought. New York: The Free Press.

Shaffer, D. (2006). How computer games help children learn. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Stokes, R. (2014). Why We Should Teach Design Early. Retrieved August 1, 2014 from