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Design, The Design Process, and Design Education

A Framework for Youth Education at the National Building Museum

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Green by Design School Program
Girls construct a house on stilts to avoid damage from potential floods.
Photo by Kevin Allen

Youth education programs at the National Building Museum inspire students to examine the people, processes, and materials that create buildings, places, and structures. The Museum uses the design process as an educational model that requires young people to identify problems or needs, imagine solutions, test them before building a suitable design, and evaluate the product. Learning by doing is central to design education. After engaging in hands-on activities that stimulate exploration of the built environment, students gain a fresh perspective on their surroundings and begin to understand how design decisions can have an impact on the environment.


Most people recognize that the aesthetic and functional details of a building or the layout of a printed advertisement result from a creative process called design, but fewer people realize that design does not necessarily entail a visual component or even a tangible product. For example, a design can symbolize the organization of a team of workers or represent a plan for navigating one’s way home during rush-hour traffic.

Design as a Process

The act of design can be defined as a purposeful and creative process for developing solutions for defined needs and audiences.

  • Design fulfills a need or a purpose and is carried out purposefully. Thus, it is not random or arbitrary.
  • Design is creative because it involves the development of something new, different, or improved. Design is also creative because it embodies an aesthetic component, be it the visual appeal of the Washington Monument or the organizational elegance of a workflow system.
  • Design is practical because it provides a solution to a perceived problem or need. The solution is not predetermined; indeed, there can be more than one viable solution or design.
  • Design should respond to a particular audience or audiences. For example, a chair that is designed for a child will likely differ in form and style from a chair designed for an older person.

The process of design consists of several actions, which are listed below. Evaluating the result of each action is critical throughout the design process in order to ensure that subsequent actions are appropriate and practical.


Define a problem or need.
Investigate the circumstances surrounding the problem.
Imagine potential solutions are. 
Plan a feasible solution, often in the form of a model or prototype.
Produce a final solution, typically reflecting certain limitations or constraints
(e.g., money, time, materials).
Evaluate the end product, possibly leading to a cycle of design revisions.

It is important to note that the design process is not linear, and actions do not always proceed sequentially. In fact, the phases of the design process often alternate back and forth and may repeat themselves before arriving at a final product. Design is a constantly shifting, fluid process.


Design Education

Design education involves both the product and the process of design. It teaches about design through a problem-based approach in which the design process is the primary learning tool. Design education closely correlates to real-life learning since it integrates information with experience, links learning to living, emphasizes thinking, and promotes socialization and cooperation. Students are encouraged to become team-oriented, creative problem solvers and designers who are flexible and seek their own solutions to problems using a variety of activities and resource materials. Through the process of designing, students develop critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills necessary for both effective design and life in general.