Graceful degradation is the property that enables a system (often computer-based) to continue operating properly in the event of the failure of (or one or more faults within) some of its components.
Ever since I heard the term graceful degradation, I’ve wanted to use it in a real sentence. Like that one that you just read. But more on this later.
I’m feeling particularly reflective in my last days as the fourth Cooper-Hewitt National Design Fellow. This staff portrait (taken yesterday) captures my somewhat melancholy mood perfectly.
I emigrated here within a matter of hours after finishing work at the end of March. I started work here almost immediately and threw myself into my new role with enthusiasm and a sort of wide-eyed wonder as I struggled to digest the thousands of acronyms and lost in translation moments.
One particularly poignant lost in translation moment a couple of weeks in found me in the elevator with the Museum Director Bill Moggridge (a British expat) talking about football – and getting to the bottom of the elevator and both us realising that we were definitely not talking about the same thing. We haven’t talked much since – but I’m not sure whether this is by design or not!
I’ve had so many unbelievable experiences in my time here – I’ve met with designers, entertainers and run-of-the-mill famous people that I never in a thousand years dreamed of meeting. But the real surprise is the genuine friendships that have been forged – and that I hope to continue to build on.
But now to the title of this piece – and one of my final share-outs from my time here at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. When I arrived, I very quickly locked on to what I perceived to be a gap in Design Education Education – an absence of what I’ll call for the sake of argument, a Design Toolkit.
I felt that traditional models for teaching Design Education (at least to teachers looking to incorporate the design process into their own curriculum but who weren’t necessarily interested in becoming “designers”) were either overly academic and theoretical or far too prescriptive (and thus the antithesis of the design process).
It is quite possible that I over problematised this perceived deficit (after all this was the first time in 5 years that I wasn’t marking, preparing, thinking, hand-wringing about school, completing post-grad assignments) but after talking to colleagues here in the office and at home, I thought that I might be on to something…
I believe that one of the strengths of the Design Process is that it is modular, it is flexible to context and content and that it can be a non-linear process. The problem was conveying those strengths to teachers who also wanted a resource that they could neatly (and quickly) adapt to their curriculum (usually in a linear way).
A somewhat lofty early iteration of a “How might we question…?” was “…How might we utilise design thinking to improve learning outcomes/objectives for teachers in their existing educational and learning context?…”.
Through more conversation and soul searching, I refined the question to “… How might we support teachers to leverage the design process into disparate curriculums?…”
I further rationalised and framed my question with a generic Teacher Competency Continuum. I’m aware that these are broad sweeps of the teaching body (no offence intended !) – but I needed to create a couple of different teacher persona’s to test my toolkit out on.
At this stage, I had also created a matrix of inter-related design experiences based on the design phases that the Asia Pacific Design Library had just identified as broad organisers for the design process. These organisers would help frame the content that I, and the previous Cooper-Hewitt Fellows were creating for the Design Minds website (launching 28th June, 2012).
These phases are:
Interpret: exercises related to research, identifying / defining the problem, developing background understanding, and setting objectives
Ideate: exercises related to brainstorming, generating ideas and solutions to the problem, experimentation and play
Implement: exercises related to testing developed ideas, prototyping and communicating an end result
My thought process with this matrix was that there are phases of the Design Process that should always happen, no matter where you dive in (these are highlighted in green) but that there are also parts of the process that can value add to the existing curriculum.
So. Did I mention that I was also working 9:30 -5:30 at the office during this time? Most of this ideation that you’re reading about here was being done in my evenings and spare time – and in this time I also in contact with students and colleagues from home, attending events for work and socialising almost every other night. Woe is me, I know.
Which brings us to today. I have a working prototype of the Toolkit – but it is far from finished. I built the Toolkit in Adobe Live Cycle Designer 2 – and it is designed to be used as is, but can also be highly customised.
Everything you see can be modified or adapted upon. If there is an image – you can print it as is – but if you click on the image, you will be prompted to upload your own image.
My thought process here was that worst case scenario – a teacher could print out the toolkit and use as is – and best case, a teacher would be able to use the framework of the document but that it would include their own text, their own images and their own content.
And now to the title of the post. I’m releasing my gracefully degraded Toolkit into the teaching wilds in the hope that you (the reader) may find a use for it, build on it or tear it down. Enjoy!
Download a copy of the Toolkit here*.
*Although viewable in other programs, you will need to use the free Adobe Reader to customise the fields.