Tour + Workshop: Communication and Social Networks

By Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, March 3, 2010

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Product Design

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Language Arts
  • Technology

Lesson Time

Two fifty-minute class periods


Communication is an essential part of everyday life.  Without it, education and interaction would be nearly impossible.  Although speech is the most common form of communication, there are countless other methods to connect with others.  After viewing the exhibition National Design Triennial: Why Design Now? students will become knowledgeable of new communication forums and techniques.  Students will work in small groups to design a product or system that helps people connect with one another.

National Standards

National Visual Arts Standards 

Anchor Standard #1. Generate and conceptualize artistic ideas and work. Anchor Standard #2. Organize and develop artistic ideas and work. Anchor Standard #3. Refine and complete artistic work.

Understanding and evaluating how the arts convey meaning. Anchor Standard #7. Perceive and analyze artistic work. Anchor Standard #8. Interpret intent and meaning in artistic work. Anchor Standard #9. Apply criteria to evaluate artistic work.

Relating artistic ideas and work with personal meaning and external context. Anchor Standard #10. Synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art. Anchor Standard #11. Relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural and historical context to deepen understanding.

Common Core Standards

Anchors for Reading:

Key Ideas and Details:


Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.


Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.


Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

Craft and Structure:


Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.


Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:


Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.1


Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.


Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:


Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge:


Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.


Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.


Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Range of Writing:


Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Anchor standards for Speaking and Listening:

Comprehension and Collaboration:

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.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.


Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:


Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.


Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.


Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Anchor standards for Language:

Knowledge of Language:


Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use:


Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.


Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.


Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.


Students will do the following:                  
  • Visit the exhibition website National Design Triennial: Why Design Now? and look at projects in the Communication, Energy, Prosperity and Health sections.
  • In small teams, be assigned a different demographic challenge that needs communication solutions.
  • Explore different sectors (i.e. Health and Energy) that can aid in communication.
  • Consider ways to solve this current-day communication problem with creative and innovative options.


National Design Triennial: Why Design Now? Exhibition Connections: IN COMMUNICATION SECTION
  • Learning Landscape. Uganda, U.S. and Dominican Republic. Emily Pilloton, Heleen De Goey, Dan Grossman, Kristina Drury, Neha Thatte, Matthew Miller and Ilona de Jongh, Project H Design. U.S.
  • Etsy. Founded by Robert Kalin, Chris Maguire and Haim Schoppik. U.S.
  • Twitter. Founded by Jack Dorsey, Evan Williams and Biz Stone, designed by Douglas Bowman. U.S.
  • Get-TogetherHilary Cottam, Hugo Manassei and Michael Tolhurst, Participle Ltd. United Kingdom
  • SunShade. Lianne van Genugten. The Netherlands.
  • Nokia Open Studios. Younghee Jung, Jan Chipchase, Indri Tulusan, Fumiko Ichikawa and Tiel Attar, Nokia Corporation. Finland, Brazil, Ghana and India.  


  • Challenge cards
  • Markers
  • Drawing paper
  • Pencils
  • Optional model building supplies


  • Graphic design: the practice or profession of creating or developing print or electronic forms of visual information for areas such as publications, advertisement, packaging or websites
  • Logo: an identifying symbol (as seen in media formats such as print, television, business cards, etc.)
  • Prototype: an original type, form, or instance of something serving as a typical example, basis, or standard for other things of the same nature


The purpose of this activity is to provide students with an opportunity to analyze a problem and brainstorm ways to solve it. 1. Divide the class into small groups. 2. Give each team a challenge card:
  • 1. Elderly people living in an urban area;
  • 2. Elderly people living in a rural area;
  • 3. Kids and teens around the world who are studying different languages;
  • 4. Neighbors from the same building or block who don’t know each other;
  • 5. Local craftspeople in Bolivia with goods to sell.
3. Ask students to come up with a system to help the subjects communicate with one another, be it within their groups (challenge cards 1, 2, 4) or across the globe (challenge cards 3, 5).  The communication systems can be either a new invention, or build onto an existing technology. 4. Explain to students that the goal is to think creatively about an existing problem. It's the thinking process that is important, not the feasibility of the idea. Ask them to brainstorm why certain examples in the exhibition National Design Triennial: Why Design Now? were included for communication solutions, such as those in the Health and Energy sections. Be sure to stress the importance of audience to each group. i.e. Local craftspeople in Bolivia most likely have very limited internet access. How can their preexisting communication systems apply to this situation? Do certain groups even need technology to communicate? 5. Have teams write down all their ideas. Ask students to select one of the ideas and draw an illustration of its procedures.  Give students extra time to create a brand name and logo for their product, making sure it is easy to read and interesting. If time permits and it makes sense with their proposal, you can provide materials for students to create models for their communication system. 6. Provide time for students to share their ideas.


Each team should be asked the following during their presentations:
  • What sustainable features does your communication system include?
  • Is your system scalable – can it get bigger or smaller depending on use or population?
  • Does your system take into account the demographic of the user?
  • Would this system be an adjustment for people or is it similar (inspired by) a current system in use?

Enrichment Extension Activities

Differentiation for Middle School: You might provide students with more context on their design challenge cards to help them focus their designs:
  • 1. Elderly people living in an urban area with some access to the internet need to communicate with others for social services (food delivery, medical care, social security, etc.) and to socialize with friends.
  • 2. Elderly people living in a rural area with no access to the internet or mobile phones need to communicate with others for social services (food delivery, medical care, social security, etc.) and to socialize with friends.
  • 3. Kids and teens around the world who are studying different languages would like to meet new friends in different countries and safely communicate with them using their new language skills.
  • 4. Neighbors from the same building or block who don’t know each other would like to meet one another through a safe communication system in order to make new friends, find babysitters, trade household goods, etc.
  • 5. Local craftspeople in Bolivia with goods to sell would like a way to reach out to potential local and international clients.

Teacher Reflection

  • Decide on most creative and applicable communication design.
  • Find areas in school to display poster boards.
  • Discuss means of different or more efficient communication (i.e. pictograms).
  • Try to utilize a different communication system for one class period to see if designs are possible
  1. To have students think about communication is a very important skill to develop! Social media and cell phones have changed our way of life. This lesson allows youth to think of different ways of communicating with different groups of people. This is outside the box!

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