Which specific challenges is your school designed to solve?

Earlier in the Spring I attended SXSWedu - one of the session highlights for me was Will Eden’s team presentation on Alpha Public Schools: designing a Next Gen High School from scratch.  Will sent me an article and case study recently where he and the team detail the successes, failures, and learnings of their design thinking-based high school design process.  You will find the case study here and the article here.

Will and John Glover, the school’s founder, “chose design thinking for its emphasis on:

  • Understanding needs within our unique context: Like all communities, East San Jose is comprised of a distinct set of family circumstances, cultures, beliefs, and experiences. Before designing anything we needed to clearly understand our students’ and families’ (our “users”) needs within this context, not as we interpreted them, but as they did through their experiences. 
  • Community-driven approach: Too often students and parents are removed from  the school design process. Design thinking demands that school designers closely involve students and families throughout the process.
  • Escaping the system: The design thinking process forces school designers to break from structures of the school system that typically confine our solutions. From conventional to crazy, school designers have to consider radically different solutions."

I believe the final bullet point, i.e. escaping the system, is one of the key affordances of design thinking in contrast to traditional strategic planning.  Understanding user needs with the structure of the design thinking process, enables designers to seek solutions several layers below the surface to reveal the complexity of challenges faced and hope and energy in solutions generated.  I look forward to following Alpha's progress!