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When Rinat Aruh and Johan Liden, from New York-based design studio, Aruliden offered to teach a design seminar to the eight graders at the School at Columbia University, they did not expect much. It was just their way of thanking the school for allowing them to conduct student focus group studies, for a client. So you can only imagine their surprise when the 13-year olds came up with what Ms. Aruh describes as 'mind blowing ideas'!
Dubbed 'Tools for Schools', the seminar focused on getting the kids to envision the classroom furniture of the future. Divided into three teams, the students were asked to come up with innovative designs for a chair, desk and school locker.
Unlike other similar collaborations between schools and design firms, the class was not treated as a stand-alone 'after' school program, but integrated in the normal coursework. During math, the teams figured out the design in terms of ratios and proportion, in science they researched materials, while during language arts, they worked on their presenting their final ideas.
Besides drawing from their own experiences, the teams also conducted copious amounts of research, by interviewing fellow students, members of the school faculty and scouring around the Internet, for inspiration. While some ideas incorporated in the final design came from this research, others were inspired by simple observations - like the idea to make the chairs more comfortable using wooden balls, came after one of the students accidently sat on some balls and realized that it was comfortable, while the suggestion to add a swivel and enable the chairs to bounce up and down, came as a result of a student watching his dad swivel around as he pondered for an idea.
Once the teams had completed the design work, they built prototypes from pipe cleaners and balsa wood and also, created Power Point presentations on the cost, potential market and advertising strategies.
To take it to the next step, Ms. Aruh took the design sketches and created computer renditions, which she has presented along with the specifications, to North Carolina's, Bernhardt furnishing company, so that they can manufacture actual samples. The designs are so impressive that Bernhardt plans to showcase them at New York's International Contemporary Furniture show, this May.
So back to our question - Can 13-year-old students design? The results above speak for themselves. If only more firms and educators would collaborate on these kind of 'out of the box' projects - School would be soooo much more fun!