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Life through a lens

End-user's perspectives can make a big impact on the creative process. Louise Davies reports

If your DT colleagues give you a disposable camera and ask you to take a photo of your life every hour for a day, don't be alarmed - they are just trying to improve their teaching of design.

It is all part of an effort to broaden pupils' horizons. Imagine the scene: Year 8 pupils are working on the QCADfES scheme of work unit "Designing for Clients", which focuses specifically on the needs of others.

But pupils frequently find it hard to make the shift away from designing for themselves, and it is hard for a 12-year-old to think beyond their own school, family, friends and hobbies. Pupils' work is often based on a favourite cartoon character, pop stars or football teams. This is a good start for Year 7, but we want them to understand others' needs; indeed, this is one of the key aspects of progression in key stage 3.

To address this issue, we've borrowed a technique from the design consultancy IDEO and adapted it for schools as part of the KS3 strategy.

Called "A day in the life of", it helps pupils to understand the lives of others and the products they might need. It requires few resources and is easy to set up.

You start by giving "clients" a camera and asking them to photograph their lives every hour or half-hour. The idea is to get scenes from a person's life but not to have them in the shot. Photos can be labelled with times and put in chronological order for a presentation. PowerPoint can be used, or pictures can be printed and displayed as cards on the wall. In a short activity at the start of the lesson, show pupils the series of images and use them to form clues about the clients. Are they male or female? What is their family like? What do they do for work? Where do they live? What are their hobbies? What do they like?

They discuss the clues in groups, then give feedback to the class.

Stereotypes can be challenged with careful questioning by the teacher. How did you come to that view? What was the clue? Does everyone agree? Is that always true?

You then guide the pupils to think about how they can use the information to generate designs for the person in question. It is only a short activity, but in an instant the atmosphere and purpose in the class changes. Now, when asked to design a wallet for a particular user, the pupils have a different starting point - they see the world through the eyes of the user, and not their own.

It is also fun. In this positive, relaxed and "designerly" atmosphere, pupils generate a range of exciting ideas and possibilities. They share thinking, offer constructive comments on each other's ideas and develop ideas together. It is also useful to ask pupils to reflect on the technique they have used, why they found it useful in approaching the problem, and to consider when they could use it again - in DT and other subjects.

You can use the same activity to think about very young clients, for example. To get a toddler's eye view, everything is photographed at ground level. One pupil said: "We're working like real designers, who have to design for a client but also understand how the product impacts on lots of people, on life - good effects and bad. It's not like maths: there are no wrong answers, but some designs are better than others. We are taught to think about how we design and what we design."

* Look out for the KS3 DT national strategy in the spring.

Other useful resources:

DATA Bright Ideas Year 7

101 DT Red Hot Starters (Letts)

Louise Davies is a consultant in DT and a consultant on behalf of DATA for the KS3 national strategy.


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