Teaching Design to Grade 5

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on these boards, I’m currently working with a program organized by the DX (Design Exchange, based here in Toronto) that put’s professional designers into elementary school classes.

program info is here: http://dx.org/education/programs.html

The principal goal of this education program is to raise awareness and understanding of design and the essential role it plays in our everyday lives. Another goal is to inspire students to pursue careers in the creative and artistic fields.

Each participating designer will lead one class of students through the Designers in the Classroom program. With the guidance of DX, designers and teachers will work together to prepare a project plan that fully integrates design and the design process with the current art curriculum. One objective of the program is to infuse the current curriculum with new perspectives from visiting art/design professionals.

After preliminary discussions/meetings between teachers and designers, the classroom program will run over the course of six weeks, where the designer will visit their class once a week, for approximately half a day. During these visits, they will take on the bulk of the teaching responsibilities and introduce the students to the work of design. The designer will also work with the students, the teacher and DX to find suitable materials for development. During the program, students will learn about form and function, as well the general principles of design. Each designer will provide a context for design by presenting examples in art and design history as well as contemporary art/design works and will lead their class of students on a design project. Each project will follow the design process and will include the development of a portfolio of preliminary sketches and drawings leading to a final prototype.

The culmination of this program will result in an exhibition of student-produced work in the Chalmers Design Centre at Design Exchange opening in January 2009. Students will be required to create a ‘designer’s statement’ explaining their concept, choice of materials and the name of their project. An opening reception will allow all of the participants and parents to meet and discuss the students’ work.

I figured it might be an interesting exercise to post my lesson plans here as I go along and get feedback and thoughts from any other designers, educators, etc.

The class will be a grade 5 class, and the project focus will be to give an overall understanding of design, what designers do, how the design process works, and ultimately to have the students research, plan and design their own shoe.

The shoe they will make, based on a design brief they write, will be constructed from paper mache over a last, painted up with materials and such glued on, and if there is time, they’ll also do a shoebox design and possibly a hangtag to go with it.

The in-class sessions will be approximately once or twice a week for a total of about 20hours. (not incl. prep time).

Here’s the broad strokes of the lesson plan. I’ll provide more detail of each lesson as I make/teach it.

1. Class1
a. Personal Introduction
b. LESSON: Introduction to Industrial Design / Design Process Introduction
i. Design for Users
ii. Design for Problem Solving / Function
iii. Design for Aesthetics

c. HOMEWORK: Find an designed object at home and write about who it is for, what problem does it solve, and why it was designed the way it was.
2. Class2
a. Project Introduction –Footwear design and branding
b. LESSSON: Introduction/History of footwear
_i. Footwear parts
ii. Footwear and function and desig_n

3. TRIP: BATA Shoe Museum

4. Class3
a. LESSON: Target markets and branding
i. In Groups, students are assigned a general footwear type (ie. Running, Training, Outdoor, Court, etc. ).
b. ACTIVITY: Develop a target market and brand name/identity
i. Students discuss these groups and determine a more specific type of shoe / target market (ie. Basketball shoe for girls, Running shoe for cold weather, etc.)
c. ACTIVITY: Develop a target market and brand
i. Brand name, logo
d. ACTIVITY: Develop a design brief for a shoe to address the target market and brand
e. HOMEWORK: Bring in cut outs of magazines, catalogs, etc. for your target market / group

5. Class4
a. ACTIVITY: Create an inspiration board collage from the cut-outs for your group/target market

6. Class5
a. LESSON: Footwear design process
i. Students switch groups to adopt a different target market to design for.
b. ACTIVITY: Design drawings – Footwear and Packaging
c. REVIEW: Review of design drawings / Group critique
d. HOMEWORK: Write an explanation about your design and how it addresses the target market / brand

7. Class6
a. LESSON: footwear manufacturing processes
b. ACTIVITY: Create the project shell (paper mache) over a last
c. ACTIVITY: Cover the shoebox with plain paper

8. Class7
a. ACTIVITY: Upper design model making / painting

9. Class8
a. ACTIVITY: Outsole design model making / painting

10. Class9
a. ACTIVITY: Trim and Detailing + Finish up

11. Class10
a. ACTIVITY: Packaging Design – Boxes and hangtags/tissue

12. Class11
a. REVVIEW: Review of work / Group critique

Any thoughts or comments would be greatly appreciated. I’m not all that familiar with the knowledge/skills of grade 5 kids (it’s been a while since I was one myself), so esp. insights into how this might work for them would be great.

My general thoughts are to show the importance of the process of design (ie. it’s not just about drawing something and it’s done), the idea of design as problem solving, and also the concept of making/testing your idea through modeling.


Here’s the content for the first lesson (tomorrow!), It’s pretty much a design-101 and a lot of it im sure will be also answering questions, talking through the concepts, etc.

LESSON 1 - Introduction to Design

What is Industrial Design?
Industrial Design is

    • the design of products for mass production.
  • concerned with the form and function of products.
  • concerned with the users of products.
  • about problem solving.
  • about creativity.
  • is an ongoing process of improving things through design.
  • is a professional job practiced by Industrial Designers.

How is Industrial Design different or similar to Art?

How is Industrial Design different or similar to Science or Engineering?

Examples of products that would involve Industrial Design,
Cars, chairs, toys, TVs, lamps, shoes, computers, telephones, bicycles…

What does an Industrial Designer Do?
An Industrial Designer

    • researches problems.
  • creates new ideas.
  • tests those ideas.
  • draws and sketches.
  • makes models.
  • proposes and specifies a design solution.
  • may be a specialist and design one type of product, or
  • may be a generalist and design many different types of products.
  • works alone and in teams.
  • can work for a company or brand.
  • can work in a consultancy or design company.

Design Considerations
1. Design and the User

  • a user is someone who uses the product.
  • in considering the user in design, we must be aware of the things that make people similar and different.

2. Design and Problem Solving / Function

  • problem solving is the process of finding a solution to a specific problem.
  • in considering function in design, we need to know what the function is desired and how it is achieved.

3. Design and Form

  • form describes the look, shape, color, and other visual considerations.
  • form can make things look a certain way, but can also be designed to affect the user and function of a product.

Design Exercise - Talking about Design (either to be done in-class or as homework) Find a product at home or in the classroom and describe-

    1. Who is the user?
  1. Describe in what way the user of this object might be similar or different to other users.
  2. What function does this object serve? (What does it do?)
  3. What problem might the designer of this object have been trying to solve? 5. Describe the form of this object. (What does it look like?)
  4. Is there anything about the look, shape, color, texture or design that makes the form special?
  5. If you were to change the product to make it better, which things might you change and why?
  6. Draw a picture of the object you have chosen.
    Try to indicate the different the parts of the product that are concerned with the User, Function and the Form.


Wow, sounds like a great program and I;m very interested to see how this goes for you. Looks like you’ll be targeting some pretty mature topics. Question, what are you bringing in to wow them with, sketches, PS renderings, prototypes, live demo? I know as a 5th grader that stuff would have been great to lure my attention and keep me engaged.

I’ve been wanting to do something similar but not quite specific.

Here’s my bit of experience working with young kids. In my last year of college, I volunteered in an after-school day care program for inner city kids. It wasn’t really a volunteering work, it was for a class. We had a choice and I opted to do this, which I became addicted to.

My overall experience is, the fact that I am inexperienced with kids, and that kids are unpredictable, means that the best thing to do is to create opportunities for both parties to explore each others’ roles first. From your outline, it seems that it’s all about “me telling you what design is about and just do as I say”. That’s more for a more matured group of students. I will suggest thinking about why do you love design in the first place, then try to introduce that very same reason to kids on why they might be interested in design. For me, I will start with something more hands on, like giving them a bunch of materials and ask them to build something that they can relate to. From this process, they will understand that design is more than how it looks, and hopefully generate the sense of appreciation for every designed object around them.

Another specific example to share.
In your class, I can definitely anticipate a scenario to happen. You will give them a very simple assignment, but they simply don’t believe that they can do it, and you will be frustrated because they just dont even want to try.

This happened a lot with the group I was with. One time, we asked them to draw a self portrait. Some did it real quick. Some simply couldn’t even put their crayons on the paper. Another had such difficulty that I asked her to draw a stick figure instead, but still had to show her how to do it step by step, then have her repeat it step by step because she would forget everything I just taught her. I became very worried about her because I simple cannot imagine her trying to learn anything in a typical class in school.

Then I spoke to a child psychologist about this problem. She was surprised that we asked them to draw self-portraits, because children are very sensitive. When asked to draw a self portrait, it’s actually asking them to present what they think they are to the world. They are afraid to be confronted by the differences between how people perceive them vs how they perceive themselves. For me, I never would have known this, but it was a big lesson for me.

So I would suggest you to speak with a child psychologist, or someone who are experienced with children to craft your program.

Also, I will avoid showing your renderings or sketches, because this will only intimidate them when you ask them to draw a design. They will be thinking about your renderings and lose confidence in themselves. You should definitely show them samples of your actual products so they have something tangible to play with.

Again, this is very subjective. Some kids are very confident of themselves, some aren’t. It’s highly likely that you will get both, so you need to know them first and plan this strategically.

Make it fun, and make them proud. Make them the rock stars.

Remember, you are designing an experience here.

My perception is that you’ve got a college agenda here! Consider the jargon alone: aesthetics, branding, target-market, footwear, outsole, design-brief, identity, packaging, critique, last, etc.

I do like the focus area of footwear, since it’s something they can relate to, and there’s a coolness factor. I also like the activities: show-and-tell, field-trip, collaging etc.

Asking them to find a target market might be tough. How about asking them to design shoes for someone in their own family? They’ll have more to draw from, and can be more ‘user centric’ in their approach. Plus it will have a more lasting effect!

I’ll be honest - I think what you’re doing will probably be WAY over their heads and attention spans.

Realize kids that age, don’t know who a user is and will find it very hard to understand or have some of that complexity made fun and relevant to them. Most kids in 5th grade probably still have trouble coloring in the lines of a drawing.

I think trying to make it very loose and very fun would be the best way to go. Have them understand what designers do and think “would I have known what user research was in 5th grade?”

It’s not easy…little kids are tough. But I would start them at a super basic level and make it fun. Maybe get them to design shoes for their favorite movie star/video game character/animal, something wacky that they can have fun with.

Last year, I did an ID activity day at a local elementary school with a groups of 2nd - 5th graders (not together, one class at a time) doing pretty much what you are doing.

I discussed ID in general, asked them what things they thought were designed. We talked about the three facets ( form, function, emotion) I took them through a really basic sample “design process” of a video game console. Then I showed them images of finished things I had designed (not sketches) and then I did a quick demo on a cintiq.

For the activity, I gave them an open ended “toy” or “gadget” design project (with themselves as the target market) I provided each group of kids (4-5) in the class a box of pre cut “mood board” images that they could dig through and paste together when envisioning their design. Then, they had to draw their design and write callouts to describe it. Also, while they worked, the students could come up individually and try out the cintiq, which they took very seriously and seemed to work well.

Just as molested_cow experienced, a few kids were REALLY intimidated by drawing and were afraid to draw something “wrong” Others went crazy and did some really cool stuff. For the ones with anxiety, I sat down with them and started drawing with them (chicken scratch) while asking them about their idea to get them started.

I only had 1.5 hours with each group, so it was greatly compressed, but I found that they surprised me in more ways than I over-estimated their ability. I found that as soon as the kids got their hands on something, they were engaged. Good luck, and I’d love to be able to do something like this but more in-depth, like you have the opportunity to do.

First off, thanks for the comment from everyone.

While I do not have a background in pedagogic methods or child psychology, I do have plenty of experience with kids, and mentoring. My lesson plan is based pretty much on my own experiences and also what I remember/value in my own education.

That is, I believe strongly that it is better to have content that stimulates, and challengers and may be above the reach of kids, than to talk down to them or to make it too basic. I also believe by teaching by example, and interest and inspiration are the best drivers to learning. Participation is also key to learning.

I would also like to note the lesson plan posted above is for my own (and the DX/teacher’s) reference…I never planned to hand out a course syllabus. A lot of the ideas I have planned are indeed more group oriented, open and interactive,
and certainly for this age group I would never just lecture a topic and hope they get it…the materials are more to be a guide for myself than an outright plan/workbook. I do realize this might not be apparent from the materials posted.

Anyhow, I Just got back from the first lesson. Here’s what happened-

  1. First off, as per the material above, tried to introduce them to the concept of Industrial Design (note, i conciously named it this, as opposed to Product Design or design in general given that it’s a term that would be good to learn and spread the meaning of). As they knew I was a shoe designer, however, most seemed still focused on shoes than the more general idea i was trying to give.

Going through the idea of ID (product, mass production, problem solving, etc.) they seemed to pick up on it pretty well and we reviewed some examples of products IDers could do, what mass production is, and how it is similar to art/science. Pretty much just glossed over the what is an IDer, as was answered in the first topic Q&A

  1. Broke down the idea of the 3 Design Considerations; User, Function and Form. We did group brainstorming to find examples of things you might want to know about a user (ie. who, size, height, etc.), function (how long it should last, where it functions, what it should do, etc.), and form (shape, color, texture, feel, etc.).

  2. Then I mentioned how sometimes these things can be related and form (or looks) are often what is thought of in design, but that there can be reasons for one form or another. They gave me examples like how a girls toy might be pink, or how something for outside should be in a certain material. They seemed to pick up this link which i figured was pretty abstract, quickly.

  3. At this point, we did a group exercise as above all together, picking an object in the class (chair), and describing the user (them, kids, small, etc.), the function (to sit, comfort, to use the desk, etc.), and form (blue, plastic, square, hard, etc.). We also discussed the connections between the form words and the user/functions.

  4. After a short recess I had them break into groups divided into different aspects of form/design (color, shape, materials, etc.) and list some things they would change and why (in relation to the user/function). They then called them out, and I wrote them on the board. I had them then each draw a picture of the new chair using those things. The point was to show how each person can have a different idea (that there is no right answer, and everyone can have good ideas).

  5. To finish things up, and give them some eye-candy encouragement, I then drew the stock chair on the the chalkboard, and went around to each person to look at their drawing, and have them tell me their favorite part. I then modified the chair on the board to have that part, while they were watching. We ended up with a sorta homer-simpson design, but it was fun. It had wheels, bling, armrests, padded cushions, adjustable levers, a TV, cupholders, storage basket, etc.

All good fun. :slight_smile: more comments/thoughts always welcome and no doubt i expect to adjust and change the curriculum as I go, learn the ability of the kids and see how long things take.



that sounds like a lot of fun, I wish my school would have done something like that back in the day.

My father always told me young kids were like sponges, and can usually absorb whatever you pour into them. So if you pour complex design ideas into them, it shouldn’t be surprising that they “get it.” I’m glad that you went with your gut and didn’t underestimate them. We all learned how to do this stuff at one point, right?

Keep posting the lesson plans, maybe even some of their ideas, I’m sure we have some things to learn from people who don’t think “this is the way its always been done, so this is the way it has to be done.”

here’s some quick pics.

not my finest rendering, but i tried to make the different parts the kids designed look like they did on their drawings, and chalkboard sketching is a bit tricky. some kid wrote the “wow” (they also asked their teacher to keep the drawing up and not erase it).

everything shown (except for the headings) are their ideas they threw out during the lesson when prompted.


Ok, here’s a question to all-

in developing the framework for this project, I’m uncertain what might be more interesting/relevant to the students.

Basically, i’m not sure if they should focus on designing something more realistic (ie. a running shoe for professional runners), which may be out of the realm of their comprehension, or something more fantasy (ie. a running shoe for people running a marathon on the moon). Thoughts? Suggestions?

Either way, we would develop a seris of different groups to tackle the target market development, design brief, etc.

Also, we will be making a model of the shoe in paper mache over a real last. but i haven’t yet figured out how to deal with the midsole outsole issue.

one option could be to somehow gluegun a real outsole to the paper mache upper (I have a lot of stock outsole to provide), but this obviously limits them to upper design only.

the other idea could be to make the outsole on the upper with some sort of clay/plasticine then the paint it. they could also just cut out tread things from diecut foam, to stick on.

at the moment i’m leaning towards the more realistic design and the clay outsole.

other ideas would be for sure welcome.



Reality is what you believe in, and for kids, this can’t be more true. Instead of making them do what you feel is real, why not let them decide? Even fantasy has its boundaries. “Design shoes for the Incredible Hulk”. “What would Santa like as a gift?” or “What can the tortoise wear to run faster than the rabbit?”

Honestly, I will hate myself so much if I spent my childhood trying to draw “real” things. That’s for the adults to deal with.

class is progressing and it’s very interesting.

here’s what we’ve accomplished so far-

class 2- Trip to the the Bata shoe museum.

I didn’t do a big lecture here, but just reviewed the topics we covered in the first lesson, centered on the important design considerations when looking at all the different types of shoes they saw.

I also had them do an activity while going through the museum to draw one shoe in each room, and also draw who they think the user might have been or the location/environment the shoe/user belongs in.

class 3- The Design process.

we reviewed the design process and how it is an iterative and problem solving process.

  1. research (going back to the considerations of design - user/function/form) and looking for problems
  2. design brief- who/what/where/when/why/form/function
  3. concept design
  4. review/testing, comparing to the design brief, and then repeating step 3 as needed
  5. specification/final design
  6. models or production.

I also made the following illustration, inspired by a process sketch Yo did.

class 4- The design brief. at this point we started the project. The class was divided up into 5 groups, and each had to think of a target market for the group. to put some constraints on it, i told them it should be some sort of sport shoe, (ie, running, basketball, etc.) and based in reality (ie. no space shoes or shoes for aliens).
who is it for?
what sport?
where is it used?
what functional considerations might be important?
what design style should it be to address the user/envrionment? (ie. descriptive adjectives like “fast, modern, technical, simple, feminine, etc.”
what is the name of the brand?

Surprisingly (at least to me) the groups came up with some pretty interesting ideas to form the foundation of the briefs.

These were the results (verbatim from the kids)-

group 1
track and field shoe
for kids age 9-12
to be used outdoors, on grass in the summer
should be waterproof, lightweight
style is red/black, modern, futuristic, complex
brand “ESKT” (the kids initials)

group 2
tae kwon do shoe
for an adult “master”
used indoors, in a gym
should have grip, and foot protection, flexible, breathable
style is black/red/white, aggressive
brand “360 Kick”

group 3
running shoe
for adults, unisex
used outdoors, in the summer
should be lightweight, breathable, grippy, has a lace locker, and doesn’t come off
style is blue/white/black/silver, futuristic, simple
brand is “Speeder’s”

group 4
basketball shoe (point guard/center)
used indoors
should have cushioning, grip
style is futuristic (2050), black/gold/silver
brand is “Bolt”

group 5
x-country running shoe
for kids
should be strong, flexible, comfortable, high quality
style is fast, futuristic, feminine
brand is “Ultimate Cat”

After this, each group made a collage on a foamcore board cutting things out from magazings to represent the different aspects of the points they described in the brief. ie. a pic of a sofa for “comfort”, pics of what the person might look like, where they might live, etc.

we are still working on these boards, and i’ll post when we finish them next week.

thoughts, comments, appreciated.

the next step (after finishing the boards) will be reviewing the parts of a shoe, terminology and construction, materials, etc. to prepare them to start the design process.

all in all, the kids are really into, and even a few have asked if they can patent the design, and if they can get a wearable sample. not your average gr. 5 project i guess! I would have loved to do this as a kid, and working with them i find really inspiring. the biggest thing i’ve learnt myself, is how much you really need to know what you are talking about if you are going to teach it! i give teachers a lot of credit!

The most difficult thing i am struggling with is really getting to know the level they are at. sometimes they surprise me by understand advanced concepts, and other times i think i’m asking a simple question and get blank stares. overall though, this is getting easier the more i work with them, and gauge the results. secondly i’ve found it’s pretty hard to guess how long it would take them to do things. as an example, i figured making the written design brief would be pretty quick. who, what, where, etc…took them almost 1 hour and lots of prodding in some cases to think of different important things. i never give them answers, however, but ask them to consider things from a different viewpoint…


some pics of the last class collage seesion-