The Mind Behind Design

By Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, September 19, 2007

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • People's Design Award

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Language Arts
  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

One fifty-minute class period, plus homework


Design benefits people in a myriad of unique and distinct ways. The People’s Design Award, which is hosted each year by Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum and sponsored by Target, gives the general public an opportunity to nominate and vote for their favorite designs. In this lesson students will explore the People’s Design Award Web site and examine the reasons why new designs are created, the value society places on design, who is impacted by design, and the role that design plays in society.

National Standards


Students will:
  • conduct Internet research
  • respond to writing prompts
  • participate in small-group and large-group discussion
  • analyze, summarize, critique, and evaluate information from varied sources


  • “Who Benefits from Design & Innovation?” handout (attached)
  • web sites


  • Computer with Internet access
  • Writing Journal


Building Background

Design Inventions The purpose of this activity is to allow students to analyze varied aspects of the design process. 1. Tell your students that they are going to participate in a “Think-Pair-Share” activity. The purpose of this activity is to give students an opportunity to reflect on a concept individually, to share their thoughts with a peer, and finally, to participate in large-group discussion. First, ask your students to write responses to the following prompts: • What do you think is the most important item that was designed in the last hundred years? • What do you think is most important design innovation that benefits humanity? • What do you think is the most important design innovation that benefits you personally? Divide the class into pairs, and ask the students to share their responses to the prompts. After the students have had an opportunity to talk with a peer, invite them to share their responses with the entire class. Lead a class discussion using the following questions as guidelines: • Did your opinions change after hearing your classmates’ ideas? • What were the different ways that people evaluated important designs?

Steps for Learning

Who Will Benefit? The purpose of this activity is to help students evaluate and analyze how design impacts different people, different cultures with different needs and wants in society. 1. Divide the class into small groups and ask them to complete the “Who Benefits from Design & Innovation?” handout. 2. Invite the students to share their group responses to each question. Compare and discuss students’ choices. Ask the students why they think there were a variety of responses to each question. People’s Design Award The purpose of this activity is to encourage students to examine varied aspects of design by exploring the People’s Design Award Web site. 1. Introduce the People’s Design Award to your students by visiting the Web site at 2. As a homework assignment, ask the students to choose the design that they think is the most important to humanity.
3. Have your students share their selections with the entire class.


Ask your students to write a paragraph in response to the following question:
• How do you think design changes the world?
Read and discuss students’ work. You may also choose to have individual conferences with students.

Enrichment Extension Activities

Extend the Conversation
Have students conduct further research by asking their parents, caregivers, and/or grandparents to view the People’s Design Award Web site, and vote for their favorite designs or submit a design.

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