Life Design

2020 Life Design Summer Institute Series: Week Four

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This post is part of the 2020 Life Design Summer Institute Series, which offers a quick lesson recap and 3 teaching takeaways from co-creating a course on life design for students.

Week Four of the 2020 Life Design Summer Institute was the lesson that kept me up at night. We asked our students to step back for a moment to ask the right questions about themselves. This post provides a quick overview of our approach to asking the right questions and my 3 teaching takeaways.

This Week’s Lesson: Asking the Right Questions

This week we wanted students to step back and ask the right questions about themselves. We always emphasize the life design and design thinking frameworks we use are not a linear process. Instead, they are iterative and jump around the different stages.

Life Design framework - Accept, Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test
When you see pictures of the life design process (like the one above), it’s often presented in a linear form. However, the founders of life design, as well as design thinkers, know that the stages can be done ‘out of order’.
Photo Credit: Distributed by Bill Burnett & Dave Evans under the Creative Commons License

Last week, students created three imagined lives – the ideate phase.

This week, we ask students to step back and ask the right questions about themselvesthe define phase.

This lesson kept me up at night because I was tasked with creating it. In life design, the define phase lacks a plethora of frameworks and activities to help participants ask the right questions about themselves. My colleague, Justin Lorts, has written a few pieces on this:

For this lesson, I reimagined an original Designing Your Life activity from another phase and two classic define phase design thinking activities. The result was the following three activities, which are detailed in my blog post – 3 Activities to Help You Ask the Right Questions About Yourself:

  1. Mind Mapping
  2. Point of View Statements
  3. How Might I…Statements

3 Teaching Takeaways

Here are my three teaching takeaways from this week:

1. GIFs can be used to facilitate expressing feelings

In Week One, I tapped into memes to frame parts of my lesson. This week, I used GIFs to as a part of a warm-up activity.

The warm-up asked students to express how they were really feeling in a GIF. This activity was adapted from the Designing Your Life Stoke Deck activity, ‘How are you, really?’.

Students sent their GIFs in the chat. I shared my screen and called on students to give a quick explanation of their GIF. This activity was fairly quick and helped set the stage for students to ask the right questions about themselves.


2. Design Justice by Sasha Costanza-Chock is essential reading

I first heard about Sasha Costanza-Chock‘s Design Justice book in Sharon H. Kim’s Advanced Design Thinking course. Readings from Design Justice could have been applied at any point during the Institute.

For this week’s lesson, all the readings focused on problem definition. Excerpts from Design Justice explained how problem scoping can lead to obscuring structural inequality. Part of the 2020 Life Design Summer Institute‘s aims is to give students baseline knowledge in design thinking methods and Sasha Costanza-Chock‘s work is an important and relevant framing of ongoing issues in design.

2. Intergrating multiple measures so no one is left behind

The define phase is arguably one the most challenging phases in design thinking and life design. In a virtual setting, it’s especially easy for students to get disoriented and not feel like they are ‘getting’ an activity.

Given that the define phase is challenging from the outset, I integrated three measures to help both students and instructors that served as touchpoint through the lesson.

First, I continued the practice of guided brainstorming from the previous week. The aim here was on dividing brainstorming into discrete amount of time with a singular focus. For example, when mind mapping their current views, they had dedicated time to focus solely on each part (i.e., 2 minutes for Workview, 2 minutes for Collegeview, etc.).

Secondly, I suggested doing small group discussions in groups of two starting with the Point of View statements. Also, the assigned pairs stayed the same over the course of the lesson to foster continuous discussion. Having such a small group encouraged each student to share their work and any questions they had.

Finally, I included the option of doing examples, especially for the How Might I… statements, as a group. This helped me guide everyone through the process, as well as helping students to see how others were thinking.

Closing Thoughts

As an educator and design thinking practitioner, this week marked a personal milestone. I was excited to create define phase activities to help students ask the right questions about themselves. Furthermore, I appreciated the openness and support of my fellow 2020 Life Design Summer Institute instructors as we guided students in framing their personal questions.

This post is part of the 2020 Life Design Summer Institute Series, which offers a quick lesson recap and 3 teaching takeaways from co-creating a course on life design for students.

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