Good to be bad

11th January 2008 at 00:00

Encourage a free and creative approach to design by working on something awful first, advises Andrew Millicheap.

I often ask pupils to design the world's worst product. It throws up some wonderful ideas. For example, if I ask them to design a coffee table they might come up with something that has three wobbly legs, a concrete top that makes it too heavy to move and some bits that stick out, so you tear your clothes as you walk past. Before long, you're into "chocolate teapot" territory.

Being asked to design a bad product really gets the imagination going. It takes the pressure off pupils. They don't feel as if they have to come up with a brilliant idea, so they adopt a more free and creative approach in class.

When they annotate their drawings, they make much more detailed comments about the excruciatingly bad features than when I ask them to do something that's "good". And you can get the rest of the group to be critical of the product without its designer feeling offended. After all, it was meant to be bad - so criticism is really a form of praise.

One of the great things about this exercise is that you can use it with any year group, right up to A-level. It's a useful way of working, because in order to figure out what makes a terrible coffee table you first have to think about what makes a good coffee table. It still makes you aware of all the important factors such as stability, safety and ease of use.

If you then ask pupils to design a really good version of the same product, they'll usually find it very easy.

Once they've stopped thinking of a coffee table as being like every other coffee table they've seen, then it becomes much easier to have original ideas. It helps them break out of the strait-jacket.

Andrew Millicheap teaches at Droitwich Spa High School in Droitwich Spa, Worcestershire. He is one of the Design amp; Technology Association's New Talent Group, comprising teachers with less than five years' experience who demonstrate exceptional promise.

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