Black, Striped, White, & Plaid: Changing Patterns

By Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, September 12, 2006

Grade Level

  • Elementary School


  • Product Design

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Language Arts

Lesson Time

Two fifty-minute class periods, plus one homework assignment


Design is an innovative process. Often, in everyday life, we don't question why things look the way they do. Why are cars almost always designed in a palette of solid colors? Why are garbage cans usually green? Why do beach umbrellas typically have stripes? In this lesson students are asked to create a new design for an everyday object using color and patterns.

National Standards

Standard 1. Level II. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process 1. Prewriting: Uses prewriting strategies to plan written work (e.g., uses graphic organizers, story maps, and webs; groups related ideas; takes notes; brainstorms ideas; organizes information according to type and purpose of writing) 5. Uses strategies (e.g., adapts focus, organization, point of view; determines knowledge and interests of audience) to write for different audiences (e.g., self, peers, teachers, adults) 6. Uses strategies (e.g., adapts focus, point of view, organization, form) to write for a variety of purposes (e.g., to inform, entertain, explain, describe, record ideas) 
Listening & Speaking
Standard 8. Level II. Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes 1. Contributes to group discussions 7. Makes basic oral presentations to class (e.g., uses subject-related information and vocabulary; includes content appropriate to the audience; relates ideas and observations; incorporates visual aids or props; incorporates several sources of information) 10. Organizes ideas for oral presentations (e.g., uses an introduction and conclusion; uses notes or other memory aids; organizes ideas around major points, in sequence, or chronologically; uses traditional structures, such as cause-and-effect, similarity and difference, posing and answering a question; uses details, examples, and anecdotes to clarify information  
Working With Others


Students will do the following:
  • observe and record information
  • brainstorm ideas
  • respond to writing prompts
  • conduct surveys
  • analyze and evaluate information
  • create a design for an everyday object
  • evaluate group work
  • write an advertisement
  • create a presentation


  • "Change the Look" handout


  • paper
  • crayons
  • markers


Building Background Observation Central

The purpose of this activity is to encourage students to observe the use of color and patterns in everyday objects. 1. Divide the class into small groups and ask them to conduct a brief observation of the objects that surround them in your classroom. Tell each group to record five examples of objects that are either solidly colored or patterned. Have each group share its list with the class. As the students present each item, discuss whether or not the color or pattern on the item is a typical example. For example, if they have selected a white computer, ask the question, "Are computers typically white?" 2. Tell your students that you want them to try to imagine a wide range of objects and what they typically look like. As a class, brainstorm a series of questions that follow the sentence patterns below:
  • Why is a __________________ usually _____________?
Possible examples include the following:
  • Why is a plastic trash can usually green?
  • Why is a garden hose usually green?
  • Why is a car usually a solid color?
  • Why is an umbrella usually striped?
  • Why are mailboxes usually black?
  3. Browse the Internet to showcase the wide variety of color and patterns of everyday items. For example, you may wish to view the following websites:
  • Picture Frames (search for picture frames)
  • Sneakers
Click here for images.
  • Dishes 4. Give students the following homework assignment. Compile a list of 25 everyday objects of varying colors and patterns. 5. Review the homework assignment by having students share their lists. Examine each item to see if it has a "typical" color or pattern, and discuss why objects tend to have a typical color or pattern. The purpose of this introductory activity is to help students think "outside the box" as they begin to plan their design project.

Steps for Learning Make It New!

The purpose of this activity is to provide students with an opportunity to use the steps of the design process to create a new color or pattern for an everyday object 1. Tell the students that they are going to use color and pattern to create a new look for an everyday object. Divide the class into small groups. Give each group a copy of the "Change the Look" handout. 2. Provide time for each small group to present its work to the class. 3. Discuss the different elements of each group presentation, and how each group expressed its thoughts through design.



Create a class rubric with your students that will help them understand the effectiveness of their design process. Use the following guidelines to help create the rubric. -How effective was your brainstorming in generating ideas? Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor -Rate how effectively you analyzed the information you used to identify your problem. Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor -Rate the effectiveness of your solution. Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor -Rate how clearly you communicated the problem you wanted to solve. Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor -Rate how clearly you communicated your solution. Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor -Rate your effectiveness as problem solvers. Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor -Rate your creativity. Excellent             Good            Adequate            Poor

Enrichment Extension Activities

Activity One: Survey Time
1. Have each group share its work with people of varied ages to get feedback on its design. As a class, create a series of questions to get feedback on the newly designed object. After students have collected their data, analyze and evaluate the students' survey responses.
Activity Two: Business Changes
1. Ask the students to look for examples of everyday products that have had their packaging changed to create a new look. Create a class list and have the students work in small groups to conduct research to find out why businesses choose to update and change the look of their products.

Leave a reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.