Design Learning Framework

Based on student learning needs and context, these steps are flexible in terms of the order in which they occur throughout the design learning process.
The Design Learning Process at a Glance
Click here to view a graphical representation

STEP 1  |  Explore

STEP 2  |  Describe

STEP 3  |  Explain

STEP 4  |  Demonstrate

Sensory Exercise

Students engage in playful learning experience to explore key terms and concepts, along with essential skills


Facilitator assesses learners’ level of understanding of key terms and concepts—followed by guided inquiry and open dialogue (scored, not graded)

Problem Statement

Students discover and state real-world problem that is relevant, doable, with accessible resources—aimed purposeful and sustainable contributions

Define Challenge

Learners transpose problem statement into a human-centered design project—intent with purpose, creative, innovation design solution

Ask Critical Question

Students craft guiding question embedded in divergent thinking along with real-world challenge

Sort Habits of Mind

Learners observe context of users and stakeholders alongside needs and wants

Select Perspective

Students narrow project scope (art, design, the humanities, science, technology, engineering, math)

Select Pathway

Learners target area of interest (home, work, learning, health, community, mobility, play, agriculture, environment)

Consider Upcycling Resource(s)

Students select upcycle resources and materials (reused materials such as: food cans, plastic bags, paper envelopes, clothing, hangers, boxes, etc.)

Engage Experts

Learners engage experts in dialogue to gain greater understandings

Check Assumptions

Students check presumptive thinking by gathering input and feedback from users and stakeholders

Make Sense of Findings, Consider Alternatives

Students sort through most important information and findings via brainstorming “what if?” questions

Identify Criteria, Embed Feedback Loops

Learners set clear criteria as indicators of success as aligned with embedded checkpoints of design decisions

Conduct Formative Assessments

Facilitator assesses learners’ level of readiness to apply and transfer key concepts and skills (scored, not graded)

Create Plan of Action

Students plan resources, scope implementation, and frame desired outcomes

Iterate Design Solutions

Learners finalize plan of action, iterate top design solutions, and generate visualizations and prototypes

Forms of Design Solutions

Art: 2D or 3D Expression Design

Design : Product, Communication, Experience, or Service Design

Humanities: Human-Centered Design within Current, Trajectory, or Retrospective Context

Science: Physical or Natural System Design

Technology : Software System Design

Engineering : Structural System Design

Math: Mathematical Model Design

Apply Checkpoints

Students check decisions against identified criteria to ensure successful final design decisions, adjust as needed

Final Design Presentation

Learners produce storyboard & process book and prepare 3-minute video & presentation




STEP 5  |  Evaluate





Students reflect, make sense of design learning process, consider improvements, and ask new questions


Assess learners’ level of understanding (key terms, concepts) compare to PRE, formative assessments, etc. (scored, not graded)

Transfer Learning

Learners consider how they might use new understandings in everyday life or other subjects

Final Evaluation

Conduct summative assessment as needed (scored and graded)

Doris Wells-Papanek,
Feb 5, 2014, 12:24 PM