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Design Thinking Is…A Field Trip!!

Last October, Shaw Commercial VP of Marketing Brenda Knowles and Shaw Contract Group designer John Crews traveled to Dalton, GA to speak with a precocious group of fourth and fifth graders at Westwood Elementary School about “design thinking.” The students sought extra inspiration for their ambitious yet imaginative mission — redesign the school media center.

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What Is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is a formal method for practical, creative resolution of problems and creation of solutions, with the intent of an improved future result. In this regard it is a form of solution-based, or solution-focused thinking – starting with a goal (a better future situation) instead of solving a specific problem. By considering both present and future conditions and parameters of the problem, alternative solutions may be explored simultaneously. – Nigel Cross, “Designerly Ways of Knowing”

Design thinking is all about creating holistic, ideal solutions for the future, instead of solving immediate problems. This solution-first approach is accomplished through an iterative process of divergent thinking that yields as many “out-of-the-box” ideas as possible and refine down to the most feasible options. That “a-ha moment” will happen as long as you adhere to Meinel and Leifel’s four principles of design thinking:

    The human rule – all design activity is ultimately social in nature
    The ambiguity rule – design thinkers must preserve ambiguity
    The re-design rule – all design is re-design
    The tangibility rule – making ideas tangible always facilitates communication

This group of gifted and talented students truly exemplified these principles, because they not only absorbed design thinking theory, but wanted to get up close and personal with design thinking in practice. Fortunately, Shaw Commercial’s headquarters at Plant 94 are only a 45 minute bus trip away!

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Design Thinking in Action

“I’m used to organizing mill tours, not field trips”, exclaimed Custom Studio Senior Design Manager Brandy Sutherland, “but I’ve never had more fun planning an event in my 12 years at Shaw!!”

Sutherland had plenty of help from Shaw Contract Group’s best and brightest to plan a full day of engaging activities to make design thinking tangible, social and most importantly, fun. First, the students revved up their imaginations with Shaw Hospitality Group designer Omoleye Adeyemi. First, Adeyemi handed each student a piece of paper with a few squiggly lines drawn across it in no particular order. She then instructed them to grab a crayon and connect the lines to draw shapes or figures that fit into whatever narrative they could imagine. Needless to say, many entertaining tales of dragons, dinosaurs and stick figures unfolded across each piece of colorful scratch paper. The creative juices flowed more freely once Adeyemi showed them how to magically swirl pigment on top of water and transfer it to paper. Check out the Noble Materials video and see if you can do any better!

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After an eventful and productive morning, the children were treated to a little lunch-and-learn in the form of pizza and our very own ColorSense video. Shaw Contract Group designer Ashley Olsen then guided her captive audience on a sensory journey through the Altered and Studio Painting collections and how they were inspired from cultural artifacts across the globe. By this point, the students were practically giddy to go on a tour of our design studio to see, feel and hear all of this design thinking happening in real time and gain a better understanding of how ideas become tangible.

The wide-eyed pupils were then handed off to Sutherland and West Coast Custom Design Manager Trish Hagedon to learn how our Custom Design Studios customize any design to fit a variety of floor plans. Like any group of 21st century youngsters, they had the most fun with our interactive Foundry Tool which enabled them to plug and play with the ideas already percolating in their young minds with a few clicks of a mouse. Senior Estimating Manager Tony Gentry even showed them how a carpet-to-fit, or seamless design concept flowing between rooms, might look on their own media center floor plan via AutoCAD. Now knowing the capabilities of our custom design team, Sutherland handed each child a paper version of their floor plan and let their imaginations fly, as long as they colored within the lines.

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“Some students came up with very colorful carpet-to-fit concepts, while others decided to assign certain patterns and color palettes to individual rooms,” said Sutherland.

What’s Next?

After a long day of design thinking, doing, drawing, coloring and playing, the Westwood students returned to Dalton with a veritable treasure chest of creative ideas to unleash upon their media center. They have already designed the furniture and dreamed up a new maker space, and keep a close eye on design trends, so the sky is the limit for bringing their collective vision to life. We’ll keep you posted on the unveiling of their media center makeover later this year!

“We are very thankful to everyone at Plant 94 for creating a very meaningful learning experience for my challenge classes!,” said Challenge Class Coordinator Martha Thomason.

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Education, innovation and community engagement are bedrock principles here at Shaw Contract Group. These events are just as much a learning experience for us, as they are for the students. Who knows, maybe one of these bright pupils will join our team in a few years and teach us a thing or two!

To find out more about our education market and how we invest in sustainable development of healthy learning environments, please visit our education page.To read more about design thinking and education visit Stanford University’s REDLab Group,Hasso Plattner Institute or Tools at Schools.

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