Design Across the Arts

3 Min Read  •  Design Thinking

With the recent tidal wave of schools turning from STEM to STEAM, the Design Process is playing a vital role in lesson plans. Design thinking provides a standardized resource for teachers to weave through all of their project based lessons as a common thread and a tool for students to use when approaching problems solving.  In its purest form, the Engineering or Design Process consists of defining, designing, building, revising, and improving the initial idea. It breaks a large project or problem down into defined and manageable chunks and provides a structure for critical thinking.    

The official steps of the design process involve:

  1. Defining the problem
  2. Collecting information
  3. Brainstorm and Analyze Ideas
  4. Develop Solutions
  5. Gather Feedback
  6. Improve the Design

However, as more schools are turning to STEAM, there seems to be an overwhelming belief that when it comes to integrating the arts, Visual Arts seem have an exclusive hold on the Design Process.  It may originate from visual art being a “more approachable” subject, or from the pedagogical influence of graphic design. But regardless, it undervalues other artforms to not include them in the design thinking process.  Media arts is occasionally integrated into the design process through digital design elements. Despite this, however, it is rare to see lessons incorporating the design process partnering with music, dance, or theater.  This might seem surprising to performance arts teachers, who naturally use the design process in their classes on a regular basis.  

Take, for example, the process of developing dance choreography. First, dancers think about the context of the song or music (define the problem). Then they gather inspiration from dance movements or styles (collect information). Next, they experiment with various dance phrases (analyze ideas). After that, they weave phrases together (develop solutions). Lastly, they perform and respond to feedback from an audience.  Rehearsal is perhaps the performing arts vocabulary for the final step of the design process: improving the design.  We traditionally think of design as the process of producing an object. However, if we think of it as producing a performance or a non-tangible it readily lends itself to the performing arts. If a music, dance, or theater standard aligns well with the math, science, engineering, or technology standard being taught, don’t be afraid to think outside the box and integrate design with a performing art.

The Design Process Across The Arts

Music: Link the science of sound and the sound of music (no, not the musical) in a lesson that demonstrates what different pitch sound vibrations look like.  Experiment with placing a speaker in the bottom of a bowl. Then cover the top of the bowl with part of a stretched balloon. Finally, place a thin layer of sand on top of the stretched surface.  What do different pitch and volume vibrations look like?

Theater: Process Drama is theater and design thinking working as one!  Allow students to become scientists, mathematicians, and engineers working to creatively solve problems as a first-hand experience.

Dance: Link geometry and dance as students explore patterning, repeated shapes and kinesthetic movement.  Or link science and dance and ask students to explore biomes through their five senses interpreted through a dance.  Assign students problem solving tasks and ask them to use their bodies to solve the issues at hand.

Media Arts: Graphic design is the artform that pioneered design thinking.  Graphic design stems from the idea that there is a visual problem to be solved and that students must use creative thinking skills and visual information to develop a solution.  Ask students to develop a logo for a company using color psychology, and information about the cooperation.

Visual Arts: Consider printing out a large-scale map of your city and laying it out across the classroom floor.  Identify food deserts that exist within your area and ask students to work in small groups to identify places where a farmers market could be established to help solve this problem.  Have students use simple recycled materials to physically construct their models and place them on the floor map.

For additional information regarding the Design Process check out this article on gaming in the classroom.  Do you use design thinking across the arts in your classroom?