The Design Cycle Takes You Further

A utility pole built right into the middle of the curb cut that makes it impossible to use!
What happens when you put a curb cut and a barrier together.

A utility pole right in the middle of the most accessible part of the sidewalk, the curb cut is one epic mistake – accidentally making a barrier when you worked to provide access. It is this fear that I come across most often when working with teachers who begin their own UDL journey – that they don’t have a dedicated process to make positive change.

It’s here that the design process will serve you well. You may make a great career teaching using UDL but the design process will help you succeed.

The Design Process Steps

The design process in six steps as a circle with arrows going back and forth.
  1. Define the Problem (Verification vs. Validation)
  2. Collect Information (Systems Mapping)
  3. Brainstorm / Ideate (Rational / Meaningful / Wild)
  4. Model / Prototype (Testing)
  5. Feedback (Feedback Loop)
  6. Improve your design (Iterate!)

Succeed with the Design Process In Education

Step One of the Design Process: Define the Problem

There is no time to waste in education, so much in any school is delivering the services we render and very little time is dedicated to planning. That is why making the wrong decision can be very consequential and is one of the many reasons why teachers are dissatisfied with the profession research gate link.

Step One of the Design Thinking process is a critical step to doing meaningful and impactful work. It all begins with a lens to look through when a problem comes up. We can use validation vs. verification to answer the question, “have we identified the problem correctly and completely?”

How to define the problem successfully – two key terms to understand

  • Verification – Is asking you, “Are you asking the questions correctly?” 
  • Validation   – Is asking you, “Are you asking the right questions?”

If I had to save the world in one hour, I would spend 55 minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution.

Source: Jordan Robers (youtube link to Jordan Robers talk)  ASME•link to ASME the sponsor of Jordan’s talk New York, NY

Step Two of the Design Process: Collect Information

Mapping your difficult problem ensures a tie in between understanding your problem and a successful brainstorming session. A meaningful systems map also supports positive collaboration where the ideas placed onto a physical space become the focus of your work – not the personalities in the room.

System mapping basics – a recipe

Nodes & Links – how we create system models. Nodes are the tiny drawings that model each step, links are the connections we make between each node to build a logical system.

  1. Cards/sticky notes as the nodes are the gold standard for how we can make rapid iteration of our ideas that add to clarity. Get many together in lots of colors.
  2. Pick a place your model can remain for the duration of your project or use some chart paper as the basis for your project. If virtual, use a tool like link to the virtual sticky note tool
  3. Discuss how or what about the problem you are solving should be mapped in order to fully map your situation.
  4. Get busy! Begin with everyone making sticky notes and when time allows, form the map and trim back the unnecessary nodes, meaningfully connecting your model together with links.
  5. Bask in the work your team has done to make unified systems model that integrates all participants’ ideas. 

Make the problem your focus, not the personalities in the room – Facilitation

As you lead your team, be sure to play the role of keeping the energy and effort on the model developing before your eyes. The physical model helps to do just that. When someone writes down an idea on a sticky note, it is now a public idea for anyone to move around, adjust or remove. Your main role will be to reduce the amount of conversation and to encourage folks to write their ideas down. If possible, do this entire activity silently.

“The ease with which we can change our representation correlates to our willingness to improve the model.”

-Tom Wujec Author, link to Tom’s site  (youtube link to Tom’s Ted Talk )

Step Three of the Design Process: Brainstorm / Ideate

Should you have done part one and two very well, you will now see that brainstorming and ideation will go very quickly. Take only the time you need for all to participate and develop new ideas to be captured.

  1. Capture everything – evaluate nothing.
  2. Encourage participation – do not force participation or sequence. 
  3. Ask clarifying questions – not judging questions. 

“No idea is a bad idea” All ideas can inspire the final and best idea that is yet to develop.

Ed Muzio Author, link to Ed Muzio’s professional site (youtube ink to Ed Muzio’s talk

Step Four of the Design Process: Model / Prototype

Carry multiple ideas into prototyping/models, this idea is critical and where I see schools making the greatest mistakes.

  • Select one rational choice.
  • Select one meaningful choice.
  • Select one radical/wild choice. 

Step Five of the Design Process: Feedback Loop

Open Loop vs. Closed Loop

  • Open Loop has no feedback built into the system.
  • Closed loop has a built-in sensor with a specific function.

“The answer to ‘what provides feedback?’ the answer is sensors.”

Mandy Elmore (youtube link to Mandy’s lesson on feedback loops)

Some considerations to help you get into prototyping:

  • How much time are you willing to go into Prototyping?
  • How much human capital will be used with your prototype schedule? (avoid burnout)
  • What are the different pieces of evidence you will collect as your sensor? What stakeholders to collect from? What evidence will tell you which prototype is most successful?
  • Who will collect the data?
  • When will you review the data collected as part of your sensor?
  • How will that decision be made? Is the decision distributed to middle leaders or must it be centralised with upper management?
  • When you choose surveys, what other methods could you use to avoid burnout?

Step Six of the Design Process: Iterate, Improve Your Design

For me, this is permission to not have the right answer right away but to know that I can and will improve through the testing and feedback parts of the design process. Far too often our profession is too proud to make mistakes or to not know something and teachers are viewed as the deciders of what is right and wrong. (The idea that I will iterate everything and the idea that I am a co-learner in the classroom & with my peers helps belay my own fears of making mistakes.)

“Iterations, Iterations, Iterations! A great design is just the most recent iteration of a long line of failed designs.” 

Samuel West – Museum of Failure, Sweden (youtube link to an interview with Samuel West)