The Business of Design

By Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, December 4, 2007

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • Design for the Other 90%

Subject Area

  • Language Arts
  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

Two fifty-minute class periods


Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum’s Design for the Other 90% exhibition demonstrates how design can be a dynamic force in saving and transforming lives, at home and around the world. Of the world’s total population of 6.5 billion, 5.8 billion people, or 90%, have little or no access to most of the products and services many of us take for granted. In fact, nearly half do not have regular access to food, clean water, or shelter. Design for the Other 90% explores a growing movement among designers to design low-cost solutions for this “other 90%.” In this lesson students will examine the varied aspects of design businesses, and create a presentation highlighting what they learn.

National Standards

Common Core Literacy for Other Subjects
Common Core English Language Arts 
Language Arts - Reading
Language Arts - Writing
Working With Others


Students will:
  • investigate the Design for the Other 90% exhibition
  • explore varied aspects of the design process
  • listen to a podcast on design
  • read design business articles on entrepreneurship and economics
  • respond to writing prompts
  • participate in small-group and large-group discussion
  • conduct internet research
  • create a class presentation
  • work collaboratively in small groups



Computer with internet access


Building Background Investigating the World of Design
The purpose of this activity is to introduce students to the connections between design and business.1. Ask the students to brainstorm a list of things they know about business and economics. Then, review or introduce some of the basic concepts of economics and business listed below:
  • Increasing international interdependence causes economic conditions and policies in one nation to affect economic conditions in many other nations
  • The characteristics and features of viable business opportunities
  • How cultural difference, export/import opportunities, and current trends in a global marketplace can affect an entrepreneurial venture
  • Global economic interdependence
2. As a class, listen to the National Public Radio podcast entitled “Functional Designs that Save Lives” at Ask the students to share their responses to the podcast. 3. Introduce your students to Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum’s Design for the Other 90% exhibition. View the slide show highlighting examples from the exhibition at Invite students to share their responses to the exhibition with their classmates. 4. Divide the class into small groups. Ask the students to read the Wall Street Journal article entitled “How Innovative Devices Can Boost Poorest Farmers, Entrepreneurs” at Ask the students to discuss the article using the following questions as guidelines:
  • Why do some people think design is only for the wealthier parts of the world?
  • What are some factors to consider in designing for the poor?
  • What is the relationship between quality and price?
  • What are some challenges in adopting new products?
  • What is needed to attract young designers to working with the poor?
  • How does this article connect to the Design for the Other 90% exhibition?
Have each group share its thoughts with the entire class. 5. Ask the students to respond in writing journals to this quotation: “We want to train our students not only in tangible skills but intangibles. We want them to make valuable contributions...Designers have to open up themselves to the world.” Richard Koshalek, President, Art Center Source: Invite students to share their responses to this quotation with the entire class.
Steps for Learning The Business of Design
The purpose of this activity is to provide students with an opportunity to investigate a variety of design businesses. 1. Divide the class into small groups. Give each group a copy of “The Business of Design” handout.2. After each group has presented its work, lead a class discussion based on the following questions:
  • What did you learn from your classmates’ presentations?
  • What was the best part of each presentation?


Create a class rubric with your students that will help them understand the effectiveness of their work. Use the following guidelines to help create the rubric.
  • Rate the effectiveness of your business research efforts.
  • Rate the creativity of your presentation.
  • Rate the overall quality of your presentation.
  • Rate how well your group was able to collaborate.

Enrichment Extension Activities

Differentiation for High School:
Find a local design business that is willing to come and speak to your class. Have the students prepare questions and do research prior to the visit.

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