Design Challenge Ideas: Part I

Some teachers are stymied by the magnitude of design challenge possibilities. I have always relied on my content curriculum to trigger great design directions. These areas of science and History/Social Science are rich with thought provoking ideas, rife with conflict, heavy with misunderstanding, and call for inquiry or investigation. Plus, being inextricably tied to human interaction, they easily lend themselves to human centered solutions.


Deign challenge work may produce a tangible product like a 3-D model. Or, challenges may focus on a new way to do something like improving an experience. There is no hard and fast rule about solutions. However the designer decides to proceed, the solution is what it is. And, whatever the challenge, it is always best to begin with the benign and positive provocation “How might we…?”

I have gathered many challenge ideas over the years. Thanks to my d.School colleagues, and my own work as a teacher and design thinker, I propose a few. The first set would fit under the category of Social Science and/or Psychology and would suggest a new process, a new experience, or a new and improved way of doing something. The age or grade level appropriateness of each challenge idea is left to the teacher.  “How might we…?

  • Ameliorate loss of confidence?
  • Improve the grocery store at 5:00 PM visit?
  • Ameliorate fear of flying?
  • Increase regular exercise? in adults? in children?
  • Encourage healthier eating?
  • Provide clean drinking water to impoverished areas?
  • Improve pedestrian safety by redesigning a street and/or intersection?
  • Use Disney inventiveness to solve a Big City’s transportation issues?
  • Ameliorate texting while driving?
  • Build a connection from an assisted living residence to the local town/retail center?
  • Design for organizing/storing laptop power cords, keyboards, other auxiliary devices?
  • Permit noise-reduction or silence in a public restroom?
  • Reduce dog poop in parks?
  • Design a better shopping cart?
  • Improve car cup holders?
  • Improve the milk carton?
  • Improve umbrellas?
  • Design a different way to capture notes/summarize information?
  • Re-design the Lost & Found structure?
  • Find a better way to clean chalkboards/whiteboards?
  • Provide anywhere/anytime access to charging stations for digital devices?
  • Prevent earphones or ear-buds from becoming tangled in a bookbag/handbag?
  • Re-design elder living environments to improve human lifespan?
  • Reinvent spaces; turning them into places?
  • Re-design the Mall kiosk?
  • Design ergonomic devices to insure healthy posture?
  • Make street crossings safer?
  • Rethink zoning rules and exploit emerging digital-manufacturing technologies to bring work closer to where people live?
  • Design new services to help city dwellers achieve sustainable livelihoods?
  • Use open spaces in cities to promote wellness?
  • Redesign cities to increase the wealth and health of the majority of inhabitants?
  • Improve beach/forest enjoyment for those seeking a quiet commune with nature?
  • Use a bioremediation strategy to rid our school parking lot of oil?

This next set also fits under the category of Social Science/History and Psychology but may lend themselves to a 3-D solution, or a hands-on model that can be manipulated by the user. “How might we…?”

  • Improve the dinner dilemma for the dual working parent family?
  • Improve waiting in line (anywhere)?
  • Improve the customer experience at a “Big Box” store?
  • Improve the customer experience at a high-end, “boutique” store?
  • Improve the hospital stay for a child during a holiday?
  • Design a way to motivate saving money?
  • Improve the amusement park experience?
  • Improve the food truck experience?
  • Improve nutrition for children under age five in urban communities?
  • Improve childrens’ and adults’ abilities to share, take turns, listen, and talk?
  • Design an awareness (any issue) campaign?
  • Redesign the electoral process to involve youth under 18?
  • Improve understand of digital citizenship on social media (netiquette, safety)?
  • Design an Exit or Escape Plan for a family or community emergency?
  • Lessen the “wasting of time” while waiting in line? for a bus? drive through?
  • Deliver fresh fruits and vegetables to poor communities without added costs?
  • Help students who struggle to organize and manage their stuff at school?
  • Improve the birthday party or New Year’s Eve party experience?
  • Improve the morning routine/ evening routine?
  • Increase acts of kindness?
  • Increase the ability to show gratitude?
  • Design purposeful giving to homeless adults or children?
  • Measure & count Professional Development (independent and/or in lieu of school provided PD)?
  • Ameliorate having no one to sit with at lunch?
  • Ameliorate being alone during recess?
  • Enable the ability to thrive no matter the age or physical condition?
  • Transform passions of disagreement into passions for the future?
  • Reach/Help those who are/feel alone in the world?
  • Become a ‘difference maker’ in someone else’s life each day?
  • Design socially acceptable Smartphone habits/behaviors?
  • Re-design the hospital patient admitting experience?
  • Re-design the waiting room experience?
  • Redesign the getting a flu shot experience?
  • Redesign the waiting-for–an-interview experience?
  • Redesign the making a hard choice experience?
  • Determine the best way to deal with observed injustice?

I will continue to add ideas for sciences, language and graphic arts, and mathematics in future posts.

In 2013, I  wrote a book titled Classroom for the Conceptual Age: A Developmental Approach to Design Thinking. In it I explore design thinking within the context of child development, the Common Core standards, and other curricular frameworks. It outlines many sets of design challenges appropriate to a specific grade level and within the scope of national standards.


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