Process Lab – By The People: Designing a Better America

By Dana Holden, December 15, 2016

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • Design for the Other 90%

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Language Arts
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Social Studies
  • Technology

Lesson Time

1 x 90 minute lesson (or you could use as a starting point for a unit of work)


This lesson is for schools who do not have access to the Cooper Hewitt\\\'s Process Lab. It is based on the exhibit by The people: Designing a Better America and focuses on designing new ideas and solutions to community challenges. It follows the same structure as the Process Lab but allows you to complete the activity in your classroom, wherever you are.

National Standards

Mathematics, Science and Technology Standards 1, 6 and 7 English Language Arts Standards 1 and 3 The Arts Standards 3 and 4 Social Studies Standard 4 Mathematics, Science and Technology Standard 1: AnalysisS Inquiry and Design Standard 6: Interconnectedness Standard 7: Interdisciplinary Problem-solving English Language Arts Standard 1: Language for Information and Understanding Standard 3: Language for Critical Analysis and Evaluation The Arts Standard 3: Responding to and Analyzing Works of Art Standard 4: Understanding the Cultural Contributions of the Arts Social Studies Standard 4: Economics CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization, and analysis of content. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.2 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.


Students will be able to: • Identify needs in their communities • Develop solutions to problems in their communities • Create designs which communicate their ideas to a range of audiences




• Pens/pencils • Paper for writing down ideas and sketching • Design cards (see below information and make cards for each Value, Question and Design Tactic)


- Community - Solutions - Brainstorm - Ideate - Value - Design - Tactic


1. Introduction If you have the space, organize the students to sit in a circle. Give the class the following three questions and go around answering them until every person has answered. Write or project them if needed. 1. What are you looking forward to? 2. What do you wish you could change about your life? 3. Where do you feel like you belong? Go into a discussion about places we feel we belong and why – safety and security, fun, friendship and family etc. Bring up the concept of community and discuss with the class how that could mean a friendship group, a spiritual/religious group, racial group, school, etc. 2. Exploring and Deepening Knowledge Now link to the Cooper Hewitt’s BY THE PEOPLE: DESIGNING A BETTER AMERICA exhibit and how each designer in the exhibit has designed a focused on a particular community issue. - Show the students the website link: - Pick a few examples from the exhibit which you think your students will like, identify with, or which will provoke a good conversation with your students. To get you started, have a look at: Divining LA, High Speed Rail Map and Board Game, Occuprint, Open House, Project Row Houses and Rice Building Workshop Collaboration, Collingwood Community Center, Seed Classroom, Red Hook WiFi, Text4Baby or Farm Hack Tools. - Explore a few (or lots depending on time) of the designs and discuss the community and issue which the designer was focusing on. Think about WHO, WHAT, WHY and HOW. 3. Process Lab: Citizen Design Students will now complete the same activity provided to museum visitors in the Cooper Hewitt’s Process Lab called Citizen Design. Students will consider how design decisions are made all around us every day and in what ways they might engage, empathize with other points of view and work collaboratively with community stakeholders to contribute as a citizen designer. Through a series of questions and choices, students will be asked to record what they and their community care about, define an issue that matters, and propose design tactics that could make a difference. This process is similar to how designers work when they collaborate with communities to address complex challenges – such as reducing dependence on private cars, improving access to healthcare, or restoring housing after natural disasters. Here’s How: 1. Select a VALUE you or your community care about 2. Choose a QUESTION to tackle 3. Identify DESIGN TACTICS Get each student to choose a VALUE they feel strongly about: - Creativity - Education - Resilience - Health - Equity - History - Recreation - Safety - Connectivity - Diversity - Family Then have them choose a QUESTION to tackle: - HOW MIGHT WE make industry more local? - HOW MIGHT WE encourage people to explore their communities? - HOW MIGHT WE expand access to technology? - HOW MIGHT WE encourage more people to read? - HOW MIGHT WE adapt housing to accommodate a broad range of family structures? - HOW MIGHT WE improve neighborhood safety? - HOW MIGHT WE better inform citizens of their rights? - HOW MIGHT WE increase access to healthy food? - HOW MIGHT WE reduce dependence on private vehicles? - HOW MIGHT WE improve healthcare access for neighborhoods? - HOW MIGHT WE restore housing after natural disasters? - HOW MIGHT WE make vacant or blighted properties useful and desirable? Now students choose two DESIGN TACTICS to assist them in discovering ways to provide a solution to their focus question. Design Tactics include: - Stage - Bike rack - Classroom - Coffee shop - Library - Place of worship - Maker space - Farm - Food truck - Benches - Community meeting - Clinic - Community kitchen - Police station - Hostel - Sports field - Trails - Barge - Parking lot - Co-working space - Fence - Swimming pool - Campsite - Fire station - Daycare - Drive-in - Micro-housing - Observation deck - Marketplace - Parade - Energy source - Landfill - Social media - Public bath - Public art - Playground An example: Exhibit item - Humane Borders Water Stations and Warning Posters, Arizona/Mexico border Value Saving Lives Question How might we place water in strategic locations in the desert to save the most lives? Design Tactics 1. Posters that warn potential migrants of the danger of crossing the border 2. Thirty foot flags for easy sighting 3. Water stations located where migrants were known to have died 4. Designing Time for students to work through their design challenge, brainstorm, ideate, record ideas and sketch. 5. Sharing Students can now share their ideas and designs with the class. They should present their chosen VALUE, HOW MIGHT WE QUESTION and DESIGN TACTICS which they worked with. Their pitch should be clear and cover their full idea/concept. Students can ask questions and discuss other responses. 6. Reflecting Now that we have explored community issues and how to design solutions, you can think more specifically about your local community and identify your own issues. You could turn this lesson into a longer unit of work which explore communities or a deeper level.


Designing a community minded solution, inspired by the Cooper Hewitt’s BY THE PEOPLE: DESIGNING A BETTER AMERICA exhibition which clearly communicates the chosen value, question and uses design tactics to provide solutions. Response should include sketches and could also include a spoken pitch.

Enrichment Extension Activities

This lesson can act as a starting point for you to explore local community issues in general, or you could focus on one issue for your school or community and have students come up with detailed design solutions.

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