The creative sector makes up 8% of the UK economy at the moment (Department for Culture Media and Sport 2006, p. 2). In order to increase this percentage, the UK government launched the Creative Economy program in 2005 (Department for Culture Media and Sport 2005). Policy makers hoped that these initiative will move the UK a step closer to becoming the creative core of the world. Central government have become very aware of the importance of creativity and its benefits to all sectors, which is why there has been so much focus on fostering it throughout the early learning stages; schools.
Over the recent years, UK has been pushing towards boosting creativity and producing James Dysons in the classroom. However, from the vast number of articles on the topic, there is a clear consensus that the lack of creativity in the classroom is much more prevalent than perceived. One of the reports that first shed light to this crisis was, Ken Robinson’s Report ‘All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education’ (1999). It consisted of strategies and recommendations for how to adopt creativity throughout the syllabus. The report was followed by Richard Kimbell and David Hargreaves (2000), all emphasised the value of creativity in design & technology. In 2004, the Depart of education realised the weight of the topic and produced a report stating the national strategy for the subject; Key Stage 3 National Strategy (Designing); Foundation subjects: design & technology’ (Department for Education and Skills, 2004).
Educationalists as well as policy maker are not convinced that school and educators are doing enough to accomplish the aims of the government (Cox 2005; Roberts 2006; Nicholl 2007). Robinson suggests that a creative lesson should ‘produce outcomes that are both original and of value’ (Robinson, 1999:29). Likewise, the national curriculum requires students to ‘think and intervene creatively’ and ‘generate design proposals’ (DfEE and QCA, 1999: 15). Educators need to consider and place these as the focal point of their lesson. Conversely the Office for Standards in Education in their 2002 inspection documented the absence of these requirements, they mentioned the lack of design related tasks and insufficient opportunities for creativity, specially in KS3. Researchers also highlight the deficiency of design concepts and the frequency of fixation (Nicholl, 2002, 2004; Nicholl and McLellan, 2007).
This paper will explore the subject area of Design and Technology in a secondary school environment (students aged 11-16) and investigates the factors that can cause deficiency in idea generation which could lead to fixation and ultimately lead to a classroom full of circle shaped clocks & heart shaped torches; lacking creativity. To explore how to effectively encourage a more creative response to design situations a variety of strategies will be used with a class of year 9 students over a period of 6 weeks. These strategies will be derived from techniques mentioned in educational research and literature. The aim will be to encourages the students to think differently to what they have done so far and analyse the strategies in context of a specific school.
Characteristics of Creativity
The term creativity, although universal to almost all fields of work, is not easily definable. Numerous definitions are given, some suggesting it as the power to produce new ideas (Dacey, J. & Lennon, K., 1998) while others perceive creativity as ‘a messy and confusing subject, bringing something to life that was not there before (de Bono, E., 1992: 75). Feldman, Csikszentmihalyi & Gardner suggested that creativity is spilt into two sub categories; ‘Big C ’ and ‘Small c’ creativity. The rarer one is “Big C” creativity, it is defined ‘as the achievement of something remarkable and new, something which transforms and changes a field of endeavour in a significant way” (David Henry Feldman, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Howard Gardner, 1994; 1). While ‘Small c’ is less extravagant, it is the kind of creativity that enriches the more humble aspects of life, such as coming up with a new recipe or creating a new effective system for filing folders – nothing that is considered unanimously remarkable. More over, Spendlove and Rutland state that many teachers see the prevalence of the ‘Small c’ in the design & technology classroom, where students attempt to give new interpretations to any given endeavour.
Nonetheless, looking at the array of literature concerning creativity, there doesn’t seem to be a general agreement over the definition of the word ‘creativity’. With regards to creativity in schools, the advisory report issued in 1991, called ‘All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education’, considers creativity as a common characteristic that can be enriched further through teaching. It summarises four features of creativity and communicates it as ‘imaginative activities fashioned so as to produce outcomes that are original and of value’ (1999, p. 29). However, using the imagination to fabricate something innovative can be a challenge for many students.
‘Path of least resistance’ (Ward et al., 1994: 35)
Accord to Ward, although we assume that our imagination is unbounded and infinite, it is in fact very ‘structured’ (Ward, 1994). He mentions that in order for individuals to ‘imagine a new entity’ (Ward, 1994: 35) their minds are structured to identify the relevant area of knowledge. Their brain then accesses that domain and extracts from that knowledge to help them construct a ‘new entity’. In Ward’s study of ‘structured imagination’ he focused on the mind’s ability to think creatively. Individuals were asked to conjure up an animal that lived on another planet in a different galaxy. Almost all of them created creatures that resembled existing animals on earth. Even though they were asked to come up with a novel creation, their retrieval instincts based it on the most closely linked domain. Ward labels this inclination as thinking along the ‘path-of-least-resistance’ (Ward, 1994, 1995). This tendency can lead to a term coined ‘design fixation’; which Jansson and Smith define as a blind, and sometimes counterproductive, adherence to a limited set of ideas in the design process’ (Jansson and Smith, 1991: 4). ‘Fixation’ is not exclusive to the area of design but is in fact a common though process, it effects many other creative fields such as musicians and novelists ((Ward 1995; Ward 2002). It is also more prevalent in schools, in a variety of subjects across the curriculum (Karmiloff-Smith 1990; Ward et al. 2002). More significant to this essay, fixation effects students of D&T. When students are asked to design a product, their ideas are more often than not inspired by popular culture. Their imagination is programed to draw on the information most available to them and this leads to generic forms ‘such as love hearts and footballs’ (Mclellan, R. & Nicholl, B, 2009: 74). There are ways to tackle this phenomenon because it is possible to overcome default tendencies of the thought process (Ward, 1995). Nicholl & McLellan (2007) state that the teacher plays a key role in the students’ idea generation. They can cause fixation as well as prevent it.
During the design process, one of the initial steps expect designers to produce an abundance of ideas (Jansson and Smith, 1991). The 2004 government reform program for D&T in KS3 also highlighted the important of ‘generating ideas’. It was stated as one of the six sub skills of designing and making (KS3 National Strategy, 2004). Fixation prevents idea generation as individuals are consumed by their one thought, one concept and struggles to think of something novel (Ward, 2002).
Dr Smith, professor at Purdue university, stated that the best way to tackle “fixation” would be to approach the task as a novice and remain in state of vagueness in the early stage of design. Contrary to common belief, experts in the field of the product being designed, are more likely to face the notion of fixation because they are restrained by the concept of their existing knowledge (Kelley, T. & Sung, E., 2017). Applying this to a school context, students’ creativity can be limited by benchmarking and research (Kelley, T., 2017). Nonetheless, the KS3 National strategy states that pupils should ‘use their understanding of the characteristics of familiar products when developing and communicating their own ideas’ (KS3 National Strategy, 2004: 21). Mclellan, R. & Nicholl, B. contest this approach, as they state that this method of researching, if not done correctly is likely to ‘default down the path-of- least resistance with the likelihood of producing fixated outcomes.’ (Mclellan, R. & Nicholl, B., 2007: 74). Their study highlights that product analysis can confine thinking and can cause design fixation. Consequently, Kelley suggests that brainstorming should be the first approach to designing, to help with generating an abundance of ideas. Introducing students to a product like the one they are asked to design can be detrimental to new idea generation. He states that the novice approach to designing encourages questions, where as an individual familiar with the topic would assume ‘they already know the process’ (Kelley, T., 2017: 16). In order to prevent design fixation students should be encouraged to brainstorm first, then much later in the design process, an expert knowledge can inform the designs. Brainstorming is a technique created by advertising executive Alex F. Osborn in 1938. It is a process which allows groups to come up with an abundance of unstructured and unrestrained solutions to a problem. It is deemed an effective technique for producing lots of ideas because any idea given is written down and nothing is rejected. This positive reinforcement encourages individuals to contribute freely without hindrance of thought or culture of rejection (Pfeiffer, J., 1998). This technique could tackle the issue of fixation because students would be able to bounce off of each others unrestrained ideas and come out of their bubble encompassing their one thought process. The significance of group work during the design process is greatly emphasised by Kelley, stating that it’s a way for ideas to ‘build up’ (Kelley, T., 2017: 17) from the its original estate. In order to provide some relevance to the ideas generated, an effective approach to prevent fixation would be the WordTree (Linsey et al., 2008; Linsey, et al., 2009). The WordTree is a method used by engineers to come up with ideas through analogies. The starting point of the brainstorm would be a word associated with the function of the item. From this initial word, anything that links to it would be written down to create a word net or a link of synonyms chained by hierarchy. A successful WordTree means that the designer would have arrived at an unpredictable analogy which can then be explored and tested (Smith, S. & Linsey, J., 2011). As shown in image x, the starting point for a laundry compacting apparatus, is the word ‘fold’. Words similar to fold are is then linked, such as ‘wrinkle’ & ‘change surface’, ultimately these links inspire the notion of changing a sail of a ship henceforth steering the mechanism to resemble that of a ship sail. These techniques are ways in which students can be encouraged to think beyond their first thought, to start and accept an array of new ideas and begin to explore the possibilities of creating something new and creative.
User centred design
Although the quantity of idea generation is important for a creative outcome, it is not the key aspect. Baseline data collected by Nicholl, Hosking, Elton, Lee, Bell & Clarkson (2012) highlights that the projects planned for the students in English KS3 schools did not have enough emphasis on target market and problem solving. When there is not a problem to be solved, and a user to target, it is more that likely that project outcomes will be mundane and lack creativity. Dewey and many other deem user cantered design as essential to learning and creating a realistic experience. Pupils are able to pick up very quickly that a task is weightless and holds no significance, henceforth leading to lack of inspiration (Hennesy & Murphy., 1999). When tasks have specific reason and a target, it authenticates the projects and ‘contributes to the innovativeness and creative productivity’(Renzulli et al. 2003: 74). The D&T National Curriculum stipulates that students should have the practical as well as ‘technological skills with creative thinking to design and make products and systems that meet human needs’ and have the ability to ‘identify needs and opportunities’ (DCSF/QCA2 2007:51). National requirements set out by policy makers greatly stress the importance of user consideration during the design process. Despite the great emphasis on the significance of user centred design, teachers struggle to embed this requirement successfully into projects (Kimbell et al., 1996). A study conducted by Kimbell focused on teachers’ struggle with meeting the ‘user lead activities’ target set by the government. His study revealed that the user was perceived as irrelevant to students and because of this reason teachers struggle to meet the requirements of the DCSF. One of the factors that incites the dismissal of the user is the importance of the skill based discipline. KS3 design & technology is heavily based around what students are required to learn, such as different fabrication techniques, using of tools and understanding of design concepts therefore not leaving much space for focusing on the user (Kimbell R., 1994). Following this study, Nicholl et al. further investigated this lack of user centred projects in KS3. The aim was to understand how teachers planned and delivered D&T lessons in accordance to topic of the user cantered approach. The data collected after interviewing teachers signified that there is minimal ‘evidence of planning tasks where pupils design for people other than themselves’ (Nicholl et al., 2012; 6). Although schemes of work stated that projects are to be targeted at a market or within a real life context, students in the interview extract stated that they designed for themselves because ‘no one else is going to say anything about it’. From this it is evident that the perseverance of the teacher is crucial in explicitly instilling the importance of the user when designing. Nonetheless, there are cases where the user is addressed heavily in a project, however the emphasis of the design is ‘superficially on the desires’ of the target user rather than concentrating on ‘the users’ deep functional needs’ (Nicholl et al., 2012; 993). Consequently, this means that there is not a design problem to solve since students are not restricted by the needs of a user. There is no issue to tackle hence there is no need for ‘innovativeness and creative productivity’(Renzulli et al. 2003: 7).
The Design our Tomorrow project which was subsidised by Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), it’s aim was to engage secondary school teacher in the field of inclusive design. So that they can support their students to incorporate inclusive design into their work and to teach them to think creatively (EPSRC, 2012). Inclusive design is a step further than the superficial requirements of a ‘target market’. The British standard institute defines inclusive design as ‘the design of mainstream products and/or services that are accessible to, and usable by, as many people as reasonably possible . . . without the need for special adaptation or specialised design (British Standards Institute 2005). It is a concept which allows products to be used by almost everyone and not just for a specific group of people (Newell & Gregor 2002). The components of a design need to be assessed and evaluated to make sure that it does not disregard or infuriate any group of people, it needs to ‘take account of the needs of present and future generations’ (QCA 2009; 23). The Design our Tomorrow project consisted of an intervention where both students and teachers worked together and tackled inclusive design tasks. The activities were constructed within the frame work of the National Curriculum as well as the KS3 Nation Strategy on Designing and placed creativity as the main objective throughout the project. The project required students to design for those with vision impairment and lack of motor skills and in order to authenticate the project, students were able to wear devices which put them in the shoes of the user they were designing for. Contrary to common belief, from the study it was found that student enjoyed designing for others more than themselves, as one student stated ‘I don’t really use my own designs because I don’t really like it for myself’ and another participant student claimed that this was ‘the best project’ they had experience in D&T. The challenge of designing for someone other than themselves likens the outcome to that of a performer’s, and the user becomes the spectators. The greatest gratification experienced by the designer comes from the effective design of a device for the intended user (Nicholl et al., 2012). Furthermore, designing for one’s self eliminates any challenge, this is picked up in the 2011 Ofsted report where it states that students deemed tasks too easy and that it provided no challenge specially for the more capable students (Ofsted, 2011).
Nevertheless, Nicholl et al.(2012) identifies reason behind the struggle of incorporating projects such as Design our tomorrow into day to day D&T lessons. Due to the lack of time, an activity with similar calibre and requirement would be unrealistic to implement in such a jam-packed curriculum. Design work takes time to develop, it is an important element of the process. It is imperative that students have the time to ‘generate and develop ideas, to do iterative modelling, and learn from their mistakes’ (Nicholl et al., 2008; 35). Flutter and Rudduck (2004) state the issue of time constraint has been around for a long time, effecting not just D&T but many other subjects. Short periods of work can stagnate effective outcomes as it breaks up rational and stability in thought process (Flutter, j. & Rudduck, J., 2004).