The design department has a teaching philosophy which values and encourages the use of workbooks. A large portion of design briefs within the department stipulate that a workbook must be included as part of the hand in. There is often a considerable percentage of a total grade assigned to a workbook. In courses I teach it can be anywhere between 30% – 60%, the rationale in setting a large proportion of a grade to a workbook is to allow the documentation of a laboured, rich process on the pages. This workbook is handed in along with a well executed final outcome that has benefited from using the workbook as a tool to create and refine. A workbook often provides valuable insights into decisions, inspiration and considerations that are undertaken in the design process. When thinking about the design process I like to think of Damien Newman’s visualisation “The Squiggle”:


Newman’s Squiggle suggests that when an individual is participating in any design process it can be hectic and many parts of each process may be in a state of flux at any given time.

The example I’m going to discuss is taken directly from an interdisciplinary course called the POP UP SHOP which I co-teach with Lisa Richardson from Interior Design. The images from my first blog post are from the 2013 final outcome called POPSHOP.

A selection of year one and two students across all disciplines (Communication, Fashion, Interiors and Product) form independent student teams for three weeks. The team Lisa and I supervise are in charge of building, stocking and selling design outcomes made by students and staff at the DEBRIEF end of year exhibition in a pop up shop styled retail space. This project has been running with great success since 2010 and continues to grow.

The student cohort for this reason are incredibly varied and there is a rich blend of diversity and skills. Students are not individually graded they are instead given a group grade based on the strength of specific teams in achieving their set collective objectives. Interestingly, for this reason a workbook grade is not assigned to this course, despite the fact that the fundamental skills and processes documented in a workbook still need to be applied to achieve the group objectives. In particular visual research to gauge the current trends in retail spaces and other associated visual material to help stimulate ideas.

This year Lisa and I trialled the use of Pinterest for the first time as a flexible workbook alternative:



This piece of software is used as a scrapbooking alternative where signed in users can comment and share images harvested across the internet.

Although a formal/tangible workbook was not required we still needed our students to find appropriate images to help them imagine what the shop might look like and more importantly we needed them to share these images with the wider group. We set up small cluster groups to stimulate this type of research using Pinterest (see above).

Students were asked to gather at least 15 images and describe and respond to them, stating how aspects of the images may be applied to a potential concept. You can see in the above image the kind of conversational pathways that begun.

The benefits of this approach is students can quickly bond and connect with other students outside of their discipline and work together to harvest ideas. Students are free to post at anytime they wish and these posts are instantly live so interconnectivity and inclusiveness is heightened.

The barriers or issues can be the posting of superficial entries, it is important that the criticality and commentary that is contributed is of a high level to encourage and stimulate online conversation. Participates have to move beyond “this is cool” or  “i like this” which is limited. Students are prompted by staff to extrapolate their ideas  – in some cases external cluster facilitation was needed to tease out ideas.

Getting all students on board to use Pinterest was a little tedious as well – they have a structure which I guess guards their users from rouge pinners/commentators and general unwanted activity. We initially thought we could invite our students by using their poly email addresses but this didn’t work. This meant it was initially a little tricky getting all students to set up an account and follow us. See video below (sorry wordpress won’t let me do this without an upgrade so screenshots it is!).

Searching for our students within Pinterest:

Screen Shot 2014-02-04 at 12.36.35 PM

Editing our POP SHOP board to include our student followers so they could pin:

Screen Shot 2014-02-04 at 12.37.35 PM




There are two areas  that I am going to investigate as part of this assessment:



Graphic Design 2, WORKBOOK International Style ESOL collaboration concept thumbnails, 2012 – Connor McGregor – Communication Design Degree Student

Critique culture:


Graphic Design 1, Circus Circus Memo Cube CRITIQUE in class 2010 – Rebecca Sinclair

These are areas of opportunity where a blended learning approach could be adopted and I will attempt to describe my methods or aspirations to date. One strategy has previously been employed in the classroom and the other I’m proposing for potential future integration. However a discussion of the areas at this stage is beneficial in understanding the current learning environment.

Workbooks: Using a workbook to record all process is a fundamental tool in design education. Workbooks are a place to create, record, respond, experiment and collect. Within the department a workbook by tradition has been a tangible large format book (A3 usually) – the physical nature of this book means that a wide range of media can be used to prototype and develop ideas and refine concepts through an iterate process.

Critique culture: Students presenting and discussing their work is a skill which is developed within studio sessions to prepare degree students for the industry. Students bring their unfinished work to studio session, questions and comments ensue which help stimulate discussion highlighting what areas are working well and which areas could be improved. These exchanges are often face to face and the associated participation involves all students and staff.

If a blended process was to be employed it would impact time, content and delivery and entry requirements.

I will discuss these areas in relation to the strategies further in the next Assessment One post.



In 2011 a Radio New Zealand interview with Lawrence Lessig a political activist prompted some internal contemplation relating to Open Education (interestingly this interview isn’t able to download due to copyright restrictions – this seems deeply ironic I’ve highlighted and commented in pink).


As a consequence I downloaded a copy of his book “Free Culture” here:

I periodically read sections of this text which reflect on the legal, economic and social impacts of  global internet usage and associated legislation which ring fence its use. It seemed apt to use my interactions with this text as a basis to try and define OER and OEP on my own terms. But I have to put my hands up in the air and confess I don’t think I can….What happens when you allow the world’s eyes on your course content and what happens when you place no limitations on the use of that content. I don’t think there is ever going to be a clean and clear definition on this.

Modifiability was a word that kept coming up in the assigned literature review and this seems to be the achilles heal which prevented any clear consensus in relation to OER and OEP definitions. It’s not so much the sharing or accessing that is an issue it’s the transformation that data might go through. Is it about respectful acknowledgement of the source of that information? Or is it a lolly scramble approach – take what you can when you can?

Practical considerations in relation to technology and teaching are huge. The internet is like one crazy textbook. In my immediate context there are greater conversations with our students surrounding visual appropriation – how they access imaged based material from the internet and what issues they need to consider when accessing this content.

There is also opportunities for them to glean additional content from the internet in terms of online tutorials through a rich cacophony of online repositories.

In terms of what we can do at grassroots level here at the polytechnic, I think before we start trying to create courses for on online environment we have to acknowledge that the learning initiatives can starkly contrast corporeal education. We need to plan and respond to our audience – What do they want to learn and how do they want to learn it – then we need to be given time and resources to make those changes in a meaningful way.

Interestingly open sesame is an online business training site:



Do your teaching methods support learning that is cost-effective and enduring while providing a high quality experience for students?

This question from the wiki got me thinking  – is this an ideological oxymoronical utopian educational dream?

What exactly are you asking for here? More for less? Is this purely about money?

Currently it seems educational models and institutions are switching to economical/business models – even referring to their student as customers, just cause they pay for a service. Is it me or is this weird?

Let me first put this into my own personal perspective:

I’m born out a generation of students who had a sniff of a tertiary landscape that was fertilised by a system which set virtually no fees in order to access education. What my generation received instead was an experimental government system that forced my contemporaries and I into unknown financial situations – a  Frankenstein monster user pays system.

The dregs of that system have serious social repercussions. It is not unusual in social situations to discuss student loans, the total sums that individuals bounce around regarding their student debt are epic and scary at best. The impeding repercussions are becoming so serious that during a recent meeting with a friend of mine she mentioned how she was shoulder tapped and questioned by immigration about her student loan debt when entering New Zealand from Australia after a long absence.

All this for wanting access to quality education.

Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems:

Hence when a student of mine enters our programme I have to acknowledge that they are now making a HUGE financial investment and are placing a high level of trust in the fact that they getting quality education (regardless of other economic factors in play). We have to give them this quality education by asking them to think, look, act and reflect in ways they might not have before. As my former supervisor/lecturer and now esteemed colleague Gavin O’Brien discussed with me you are simply providing prompts, giving hotspots and points of interest for your students to dive into in order to stimulate discussion and debate.

If our institution and educators are supported, feel confident and are valued in the way they are educating their students – Game on! Look out world! If not – yikes!

My reflections on these things in relation to sustainability are simple how do I stop thinking about money and more about experience and how do I encourage others in positions of power to do the same.

Individuals who govern educational institutions clearly do not understand what design education actually is. Design is not simply about selling stuff and making things pretty. A recent national examples from Unitec would support this notion (See Listener, 17th Jan 2014 : Arty Choke).

Restructure your whole Visual Arts department so that you have dramatically less teaching staff and replace them with managers responsible for teaching but also for making money. Excuse me but… WTF?

To me design education comes first, not quasi design education which exists purely to support business interests and revenue gathering. Strategies can be adopted to economically grow departments but they should be carefully integrated in conjunction with grassroots design education not at the expense of it.

If we forget this or if it gets bullied out of us then I worry about the health and future sustainability of design education in New Zealand. Our future designers have power – good design equals money. The ethics and morals our students employ in their trade can have great influence, because a designer’s job is to reach and affect other people. Designers are always thinking about their audience. To do this you have to do engage in education, read, write, talk, share, collaborate and learn to learn.

Teaching design is not easy, not everyone can do it. And to undermine it’s very existence is a threat to the sustainability of design education now and in the future.

How does all the above actually relate practically to design and my sustainable ideology?

One of my favourite design philosophies comes from Charles Eames who with his wife Ray revolutionized the way designers think about design. The Eames often discussed the notion of limitations and how they are essential when designing. The Eames recognized that restraints are necessary when problem solving. Without barriers, limitations and obstacles you are prevented from thinking. They were masters in collaborating with large American corporations (IBM in particular) but never at the expense of their vision and ideas, design came first.

Mike Reynolds and his “Motherships” disaster relief shelters and Samuel Mockbee’s Rural Studio a student driven project providing community housing in disadvantaged areas in the south of America would be examples of sustainable practice at a basic level.


Above: Abandoned car window screens used as a facade for the Mason Bend Community Centre.Image source:

This facade is a practical representation of sustainable ideology to solve problems: use waste resources that are available, find opportunities, make mistakes and think about the impact of what you’re doing on other people.


Here is a selection of some design philosophies created by year one, two and three design students across disciplines in a POP UP FACTORY studio elective course which I co-taught with Kerry Ann Lee in 2011 encouraging students to take some of there own talent and create a marketable product. These are their hot tips for other designers and how insights into using the design process to solve problems. This exercise was inspired by Bruce Mau’s Incomplete Manifesto for Growth.



No more blanties today….

A website I enjoy that shows complex data in fascinating formats is infosthetics :

This type of research and use of technology highlights project areas our students could involve themselves in.

A remarkable project and in a way a social statement about how we communicate using digital mail – Immersion.

Three MIT students producing intriguing visualisations:

At the coal face our students are now active users of to help fill any software gaps or to learn new skills. This works in a teaching environment as student cohorts tend to come into the programme with various levels of software training. Lynda helps level that playing field and we can easily integrate this into teaching.

It makes sense for us to use this site than spending time creating our own versions.


Martin Kean from Communication Design was instrumental in the polytechnic buying into this programme. THANK YOU MARTIN!



Time to have a BLANTY!

My colleague Morgan Oliver and I have had an illuminating discussion around so-called “trends”. This discussion took part in two places, firstly the Robertson Library and then here in the Museum Reserve.

After all my waxing lyrical around flexible learning I’m going have a blanty (a blog tantrum) on this particular Module.


What is a trend exactly?

I’m disturbed by the reliance and adaptation of new trends in lieu of traditional teaching methods. Can we celebrate the beauty of face to face teaching? While also reminding ourselves that not every single learner wants to learn in certain types of environments. So how can we have our cake and eat it too?

Isn’t education about trying to provide the most enjoyment for the learner? Less about a trend more about experience! Is this push to more flicks and clicks and less bricks undermining the experience of education?

Maybe by searching and surrendering to educational “trends” we are just doing what everyone else is doing in a strange-gated community type way. I don’t think this is innovative at all. Maybe we should just celebrate and share what we do really well instead of trying to reinvent the wheel.

Changing and using trends to heighten educational experience and inclusiveness is great but we shouldn’t simply change for the sake of change.

For example I read the Horizon Report and just because you have an internet connection, some software and a computer does not mean your education experience is more superior.


For now I think I wanna stand on the boundaries of this gated community and throw some stones.

I will read more from the assigned readings…

More to come…



The Design Culture and Context 1 (DCC1) essay writing assessment is a learning derivative that is grossly inequitable in the degree programme. The majority of students are really scared and intimidated by the prospect of having to write a 2,500 word essay. This assessment makes up 30% of their final grade for first year DCC1 students. Most students are school leavers and have had limited writing experience – for this reason the motivation and engagement with this assessment is lackluster. As a result the teaching teams challenge is too make theory not scary.

Obviously all learning environments should be more inclusive than exclusive, however there are complex numeracy and literacy barriers that become evident during the writing process. Addressing these factors is a dynamic challenge, which requires the facilitator to meet that learner at their level and adapt and respond accordingly. The flexibility displayed by the learner and facilitator during this process is momentous but it is an area that requires continued support and time.

External support is on hand from the OP Student Learning Centre, their expertise are paramount – they are able to provide another layer of strategies and advise to the student in relation to meeting the requirements of the assessment. For this support to happen a student must independently book a time with the centre. In the future the DCC1 teaching team would potentially benefit from having Learning Centre specialists involved in assessment specific workshops for students in allotted studio time. This would benefit students who for a variety of reasons won’t seek external advise/support.


Within studio sessions prompts are given to online tools such as The Citation Machine ( demystifying academic referencing for students, helping them format their research into APA full and in text citations (see above). Moodle hosts other material to support the writing process such as an essay planner template (see below) similar to the downloadable templates used for this course. Studio time is used to discuss the template and break the essay into small writing parts rather than treat it as one monster task.


Inclusiveness is also achieved by prompting students to only write about something that interests them – the essay brief is kept very broad for this reason, it is important students find their own areas of interest.