Seva Simone

Design: A Path to Agency, Design thinking: An Educational Imperative

Design(ing) and Design Thinking are valuable frameworks that should be used to drive agency: This thesis explores what design and design thinking are and builds a case for incorporating design into art education.

Design isn’t a mainstream subject of study in public school curricula. Design offers a unique body of knowledge that is highly relevant to the inner-workings of our world: knowledge imperative to teach if we want to succeed in solving wicked problems like global warming and mitigating global injustices. Studying design allows students to connect academic learning to the world outside the ivy, bridging the gap between the natural world and what is considered human intelligence, and finding self-actualization. Design thinking trains students to think critically, work together, and, most importantly, to ACT, instilling a sense of agency within. Design and design thinking lend themselves to be neatly applied through art education.


“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”

I was born into a world where design was a way of life- to my family, design was the reason to build a life. I saw that design brought meaning to one’s life. Both of my parents were self starters with unwavering motivation to continue to pursue art and design: My mother is an artist and my father a noted architect. Their design perspective and working ethos were determining factors in my pursuit of design as a career. As a youth, I witnessed their unceasing dedication and also what it meant to flourish in a home where art was displayed everywhere. These objects were beacons of emotions, they held stories. Growing up in a home to an artist and an architect, I was bombarded with art and design from an early age. Form follows function: My parents couldn’t stress the benefits of art and design enough. Whenever I would see them, it would oftentimes be either in front of a canvas or a construction site. In fact, some of my fondest memories are of my father and I going to the projects he is working on. It is here that I truly fell in love with design, because somewhere in the middle of art and architecture lies a sliver that we call product design. It is because of my upbringing that I have a passion for products.


Seva Simone (author) pictured with mentor and friend Mike Fink, we were building a succah!

Seva Simone (author) pictured with mentor and friend Mike Fink. We were building a succah!

Why Teach?

Going into graduate school, I intended to study teaching to become a better educator, to become a better communicator, and to become a better designer. A large part of my thesis is focused on making sense of what my approach design is and how to communicate that effectively. Building on my various experiences learning about design, I comment as to what works well and what doesn’t. My education and my teaching experience form the basis of my project. The greatest effect of learning about design and how things are made is actually having a structured and methodical approach to creating things. This understanding is extremely important when forming an outlook on the world, as it changes everything entirely! Understanding where materials come from (where they end up) and the true costs of labor are imperative to being successful in the mission to reverse wicked problems like global warming and mitigating inequality. These ideas are hardly taught in school and are effectively conveyed through design education. Additionally, these concepts can be applied to teaching to create more inclusive and productive experiences. This forms my thesis that design education drives agency in students and should be applied to art education if we want to prepare students for success in the so-called “real world” and to empower educators to create better learning experiences.


Seva Simone demo’ing working with blue foam in his Project Open Door class called Design the Future at Hope High School.

Seva Simone demo’ing working with blue foam in his Project Open Door class called Design the Future at Hope High School.

Applying design thinking to art curricula

Art educators can apply design thinking to strengthen their curriculums in several ways:

Focus on problem-solving: Design thinking starts with identifying and understanding the problem before brainstorming and implementing solutions. Educators can apply this approach by encouraging students to identify problems they want to solve through art and design, and then guiding them through the process of finding creative solutions. This also translates into designing an art class. Educators can focus on solving what doesn’t work through design thinking, and simultaneously expanding on what works well.

Incorporate interdisciplinary collaboration: Design thinking often involves collaborating with people from different disciplines to come up with innovative solutions. Art educators can apply this by incorporating interdisciplinary projects into their curriculum that allow students to collaborate with others outside of their art class and collaborating with other teachers to teach content that transcends the boundaries of traditional art classrooms.

Encourage experimentation: Design thinking encourages experimentation and iteration. Art educators can apply this by encouraging students to explore different materials, techniques, and styles in their art making, and to revise and refine their work through a process of iteration. This helps students grow through play and encourages them to continue their studies outside of the classroom, drawing connections to the real world. Additionally, educators can use experimentation in their own classrooms, treating their space as a testing ground, to experiment with and evaluate new methods of teaching and subject matter.

Empathy and user-centered design: Design thinking emphasizes understanding the needs and experiences of the user. Art educators can apply this by encouraging students to consider the audience or user of their art and to design with their needs and experiences in mind. Oftentimes this manifests as designing for themselves, however it is important to understand how to design for others. Fundamentally, teachers must realize that they are teaching the students, thus what matters is what the students actually retain, not what is in the curriculum.

Foster a growth mindset: Design thinking encourages a growth mindset, where failure is seen as an opportunity to learn and improve. Art educators can apply this by creating a safe and supportive environment where students feel comfortable taking risks and learning from mistakes.

Applying design thinking to art education can help students by developing valuable skills in problem-solving, collaboration, experimentation, empathy, and growth mindsets. Teachers can promote this by providing students with a framework for creating innovative and impactful art and design projects. They can also strengthen their own art curriculums with design thinking, by using concrete methodologies to ideate, test, evaluate, and improve their methods.


Poster for Seva’s design class Design the Future, poster design courtesy of Tom D’Amore, co-teacher and MAT grad.

Poster for Seva’s design class Design the Future, poster design courtesy of Tom D’Amore, co-teacher and MAT grad.


Throughout the course of the class, there were many times when I had to adjust and adapt the lesson to better meet the needs of the students. With the planning of the class being somewhat loose, given the nature of after-school design classes, it was a challenge to keep the students engaged and motivated while ensuring that they were gaining a deep understanding of the concepts at hand.

As an art and design educator, I believe that communication and empathy are crucial elements of the design process, and they should be emphasized in art curricula. Communication allows us to exchange ideas, discuss possibilities, and collaborate with others. Empathy enables us to understand the needs, perspectives, and experiences of others. Both communication and empathy are vital in designing experiences that are effective, inclusive, and meaningful, especially when designing and tweaking curricula.

Overall, I am proud of what we accomplished in the class, and I truly believe that both the students and I learned a great deal from the experience. The power of design in education cannot be understated, and I look forward to continuing to explore the implications of studying design in art education in the future.

The future of education

I firmly believe that the future belongs to those who are hopeful, and that the arts play an integral role in shaping that future. As educators, it is our responsibility to instill this sense of hope in our students and encourage them to think creatively and critically. The liberal arts education that we offer not only teaches students what to think, but how to think, and this is the key to unlocking their potential as the visionaries and leaders of tomorrow.

It is through art and design that we can learn to communicate and empathize with one another, ultimately creating solutions that benefit society as a whole. By listening to our students and adapting our curricula based on feedback and the design thinking process, we can tailor our classes to better suit their needs and foster their growth as artists and designers.

As Plato taught us, there exists a perfect form of anything, and it is through the lens of art that we can see this form most clearly. As such, art and design education is not just a physical endeavor, but an intellectual one, requiring us to think deeply about the world around us and our place within it.

Therefore, we cannot take this responsibility lightly. It is imperative that we engage our students in meaningful conversations and encourage them to find their own voice, even if they feel they have nothing interesting to say. We must inspire them to use their talents for the betterment of society, to create solutions that address the problems of today, and to never stop thinking critically and creatively.

In the words of Jordan Peterson, if you can think, you are unstoppable. Let us instill this sense of empowerment in our students and together create a brighter, more hopeful future.


Mike Fink (pictured) gleefully enjoying the space we put together (The Mike Fink Aerie). A nod to one of Mike’s earlier projects during his 60 year tenure at RISD, which was a public library in the Old Library at RISD.

Mike Fink (pictured) gleefully enjoying the space we put together (The Mike Fink Aerie). A nod to one of Mike’s earlier projects during his 60 year tenure at RISD, which was a public library in the Old Library at RISD.


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