Imagine If: Design Students Experience a Real-World Opportunity Through a Plush Toy Ro

Written by: Vanessa Vanek, Concordia Shanghai high school visual arts teacher

One hallmark of a designer when working through design thinking is the exploration of possibilities through improving, tinkering, and redesigning with the end-user’s needs in mind. Students often confuse art with design, and though there are massive crossovers between the two disciplines, the critical flavor that sets a part a designer from an artist is that end-user or client. For example, students in my Applied Learning Design class at Concordia International School Shanghai were tasked with creating a solution based on a third-grade student’s ideas, and that idea inspired the final product, a plush robot toy that the design students would sew. This gave my students an authentic experience that mirrors in many ways what a designer, especially a toy designer, might encounter.

Through an initial interview process with their third grade “client,” my design students were able to draw an initial idea for this plush toy robot. Working with their client, the design students refined design ideas before beginning construction. Skills-wise, the design students learned what makes for a safe and durable plush toy and how to construct it from hand-sewing to machine sewing. The design students also faced the challenge of making sure the form of their creations followed the intended function. This meant finding alternate solutions for some of their designs since certain ideas given to them by the third graders were not exactly feasible in actuality. Conceptually, this project allowed the design students to explore possibilities that seek to create a plush toy based on the creative ideas of another while also addressing challenges that can come from limitations such as construction stability, materials, and production while still incorporating the client’s vision.

Ultimately, the design project connected the elementary school child and my high school students meaningfully. For example, when the children received their custom-made plush toy robot, the keyword they used in response to my design students was “thankful”; the third graders were so thankful to receive this custom-made plush toy design and quite excited to show them off. In the end, this project also blessed my design students as they saw how design could significantly impact another’s life.

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