The four cornerstones of design & technology part four: Creativity

Paul Woodward
12th August 2016 at 14:01

Subject Genius, Paul Woodward, The four cornerstones of design & technology part four: Creativity

And so we come to the final part of this ‘tetralogy’ looking at, what I personally consider to be, the four cornerstones of a course of study in design & technology. This last instalment is perhaps the most difficult to quantify as creativity is very difficult to gauge or categorise. After all, creativity exists in many aspects of life, even within nature itself, as well as being evident in a wide range of subjects; even those considered traditionally more academic.

Creativity is defined as ‘the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination’. This is, of course very relevant to the subject known as design & technology but is also such a wide ranging description as to be applicable to many other subject areas as well.

So, how do we define creativity as part of the subject matter in D&T? I have already looked at what craft entails in the subject and what competence means in terms of showing a level of mastery in a particular skill or process. I have also considered the importance of communication within design but how do we really judge how creative we or our students really are?

Creativity is the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality, the tendency to generate or recognise ideas, alternatives or possibilities that may be useful in solving problems, communicating or in finding gratification or entertainment. Creativity is a phenomenon whereby something new or valuable is formed. That may be a concept, an idea or something more tangible or physical. Like design it’s a difficult word to define and one where the word creativity is often the most apt description for the range of processes it nicely sums up.

If we consider that design is about solving problems or improving the life of others through the production of graphics or artefacts then the process itself and any outcome which is derived from the process, no matter what the quality is, must be evidence of creativity.

So, what of creativity in the classroom and how do student use and demonstrate creativity in this particular subject? Perhaps more difficult is how we, as educators, judge and assess the creativity of others, While competence can be very objective, almost binary in terms of the process being completed or not, creativity can be very subjective…what do you mean, you don’t like Angela’s bright pink hair with teal highlights in Year 12?!

Ironically, despite this particular series of blogs being broken down into four C’s, creativity can be demonstrated in all of the previous topics. I have seen creativity used in the crafting of an object, through the construction methods or its purpose. Even in actions considered to be competent such as the use of machinery, I have seen equipment used in a creative way to accomplish a job but I personally feel that communication is where creativity can best be demonstrated.

The way we communicate our ideas and thoughts relies not only on a creative approach to presenting the work in a way that best connects with the reader, it also communicates how we have used creative thought throughout the design process or taken a creative approach to solving a problem. Bear with me here if it’s all getting a bit deep but again ‘creativity’ like design is a word which defines itself and is difficult to explain using other terms.

In its simplest form, creativity is the process of bringing something new into being and I think I would like to leave the definition as just that. Is creativity taking a lateral approach to a problem, thinking outside the box or escaping vertical logic? Is it the production of colourful and detailed design sketches? Is it in manufacturing a product in a different way from the ‘norm’ to reduce materials, production costs or reduce environmental impact?

I would say it is all of the above and much more, so much so that I have almost tied myself in knots (verbally) trying to define where creativity can be found in design and technology.

What might be easier is to concentrate on where there is little or no real creativity within the subject and avoid those areas. To name but a few, identical design tasks, meaningless and repetitious research lacking any real focus, design work which simply regurgitates previous projects or (even worse) simply copies existing solutions. Making a project in a way that requires the least mental effort of physical dexterity, making superficial personal assessments based on meaningless research or worse still; asking a mate or a member of the family! To wrap it all up unoriginal presentation that uses an approach that has worked for decades and was considered pretty good back in the days of CDT.

As I mentioned earlier, creativity can be applied to so many areas of study and life and ‘creation’ itself is something unique to most living things. However, it’s in the creative arts, and I include D&T in there, that we truly have the means and opportunities to explore our own creativity and that of our students. We should do so to the best of our ability and we don’t have the ability to do so, we should seriously consider if we are in the right career.

In these four blogs I have addressed four ‘umbrella’ titles that I believe encapsulate the requirements of this unique and important subject. They are not a replacement for the existing attainment objectives or other nomenclature used but I hope that they have provided discreet areas of focus that teachers of design and technology can use to evaluate not only how they are approaching the teaching of the subject, but ways in which we can tailor that learning to our students in order to maximise their potential and, in doing so, fully realise our own potential as educators.



Paul taught Design and Technology for 23 years in a range of schools with stints as HOD and Head of a Creative Arts Faculty as well as teaching Art, ICT, Photography and Media Studies. He is currently taking a break from education to return to the design industry.

His Subject Genius blog was shortlisted for the 2016 TES Awards.