Watch/Read: Design Emergency with Casula Public School

Date: September 4, 2013

Author: Ross Colebatch

DesignEmergencyMasterAs part of CUSP: Designing into the Next Decade, Object: Australian Design Centre’s outreach education program Design Emergency is travelling around the country, accompanying the exhibition, and working with local schools. Design Emergency aims to instil design thinking practices in tomorrow’s leaders at an early age by working with them on problems or issues identified by the students and relevant to them. (For more on Design Emergency, including exercises, stories and teacher’s notes, head to the Object: Australian Design Centre website.)

On 22 August, 2013, Design Emergency visited Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre (CPAC) with CUSP designers George Khut and Stephen Mushin, collaborating with 40 year five and six students from Casula Public School. Casula Public has a farm as part of the school grounds, and four primary elements were identified by the students as needing attention:

-      Vegetable Patch: this patch is neglected, prone to pests ranging from bugs and weeds to cats, and they often don’t know what is planted and where. The students see real potential for this to become an active vegetable patch that could supply product to the school and community.

-      Compost Bin: there is only one, it isn’t stable, it smells, it gets contamination from non-compostable waste due to it being seen as a garbage bin, and it isn’t attractive. They see the potential for waste reduction and to aid as a source of nutrition for the various gardens and the vegetable patch.

-      Worm Farm: again, it isn’t attractive, people aren’t taking care of them and aren’t overly aware of them. They see potential in the worm farm as another source of nutrition and for reducing waste.

-      Chicken Coop: while they don’t yet have the chicken coop, there are plans to get one, but they’re aware of pest potential (especially from the cat problem), and management of inputs and outputs, including food, seed, eggs and waste.

The students worked in four groups to do some initial discovery before coming to CPAC, creating thought maps and flow charts, as well as lists of pros and cons, which were presented to the broader group to start the day. Each group then broke out to come up with questions for the other groups, using their intimate knowledge of their own system to inform their ideas and thoughts on how the systems might integrate and operate as a whole unit.

The day was broken up into a number of sections. After discussing and devising various questions for each group, such as which vegetables might be suitable to grow and who is going to look after the various systems during school holidays, the students identified a number of different stakeholders who would be using the farm in different ways. Due to time limits, a vote determined three stakeholders to take into the next section—cats, vandals and parents.

A design sprint followed, with the forty students broken into five groups. In a frenetic three minutes per stakeholder, the students had to relay back and forth to sketch out solutions for vandals, cats and parents, determining outcomes across the four systems that might offer a solution to suit each stakeholder.

The last task before a quick tour of CUSP and then lunch was to physically map out what the farm might look like on the ground in their school. Scraps of colour representing the worm farm, the compost bins, the vegetable garden and the chook pen moved around the page, connected by paths around the buildings and structures.

Keeping in mind the work already done on mapping the systems in the school, the five groups broke back out to look at personas, examining the stakeholders again. They were tasked with imagining what the various sectors might want or need from the farm, with a view to then taking those ideas back to their physical plans and seeing how these insights might inform their original ideas.

After a full five hours of discovering the design process with Stephen, George and other helping hands from Object, the work is nowhere near over. With the chicken coop only proposed at the moment, and with plenty of physical and practical work to be done to realise their desired outcomes, the real lessons from the day involved helping the students understand the power of design to come up with solutions. And not only with solutions to what’s wrong, but also solutions to possibilities they might not have imagined.

At the end of the day Object interviewed a few of the students about their experience and what they had learnt, and their responses speak much more than any summary here could. Check out the 2 minute video, which includes some more footage from the day, and for more on Design Emergency, head to the Object: Australian Design Centre website.

All Photos: Michele Mossop.