Applying Design Concepts in your Classroom

This post was originally posted on the Chalk Blog

Design is a fascinating, and incredibly powerful tool, applicable in many different scenarios and situations. Design has many facets, and we often think about design as the form, function, brand, or even an experience we’ve had. These are all forms of design, and it expands even further into solving problems through design thinking. Everywhere we go we’re surrounded by design, both good and bad.

Designers use many principles that guide how they design across these various forms. As it turns out, many of the principles used in design can apply in the classroom. Concepts like empathy, defining problems, ideating and testing, or how to make things look aesthetically pleasing. To highlight these connections of design in the classroom, over the course of this series, we’ll walk through several of these concepts.

This article will explore the concept of empathy and listening — tactics employed by designers when trying to understand the needs of the audience they’re designing for.

Empathy and listening are more connected than many may think. Though you don’t need to express empathy to listen, you can connect deeper and listen more intently if you’re empathetic to their situation. So what is empathy?

Empathy is what we oft refer to as ‘being in someone else’s’ shoes’. The act of picturing yourself sharing their experiences, and feeling how they would. Intent listening can help you generate empathy, and this understanding can aid you in engaging in deeper listening as you try to learn more and more about the other person.

Designers employ these techniques when designing experiences, as it helps them break away from the fundamental perspective of self we all carry. It takes us out of our views and perspectives and transforms those views into a new one. This is vital when designing for groups of people you may not have personal experience or relationship with.

How do you learn empathy?

It’s one thing to know about empathy, and it’s another thing to be intentional about being more empathetic. Some people are more naturally empathetic, others not so much. So how can you teach your students about the art of empathy, and paying attention to other’s feelings and situation?

Empathy is primarily about paying attention, and identifying what the other person is saying. The root of empathy is attentive listening. Have your students focus on paying attention to presentations, and make mental notes, but avoid writing things down.

Work with your students, and set the leading example. When a member of the classroom is feeling sad, involve the class in trying to understand how they’re feeling. Be expressive in your feelings as well to build an association between your body language and the emotions you feel so students can recognise that connection in their minds.

When is this useful in the classroom?

Designers employ these techniques when trying to learn more about the people they’re designing for. It’s an integral piece of the research that goes into creating a good design. They’re also valuable characteristics for communication and healthy interactions.

Working in teams

Empathy can translate into the classroom from how your class gets along, to how teams work together. When working in groups, it can be part of the natural process to starting a project, that you listen to each other, and learn more about who you’re working with.

Researching another group of people

Depending on your grade and subject matter, students may have the opportunity to work together on a group project studying populations of which they may or may not be a part. This project can include researching the Ancient Mayans, writing a biography on their favourite grandparent, or maybe even learning about the World Wars. Empathy can provide a fascinating new lens to look at these topics through, guiding your students to a deeper understanding, and appreciation, of what others were experiencing.

This is just scratching the surface about the roles empathy can play in the classroom. If you focus on building the empathy connections in your students, you may just see an increase in the cohesive community of your classroom.

Do you want to test out how these two key design concepts work in your classroom? Our latest FREE eBook on formative assessment and standards-based grading walks you through the basics of implementing new methodologies.

Read a recent blog post on how project-based learning can be supported by formative assessment and leverage empathy and listening.

Design Advocate for @AdobeXD. Equipping designers & teams to create amazing experiences with Adobe XD. Founder & Organizer of @designchats.

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