students modeling their personal brand t-shirt logos
students modeling their personal brand t-shirt logos


Summer Design Lab: Teaching in Toronto

For my summer vacation plans this year I decided to take it easy, head to Canada, and spend three weeks teaching a group of Toronto high school students the ins-and-outs of design thinking. Perhaps not surprisingly, this was both more difficult and more rewarding than I expected.

The "Summer Design Lab" is a program run by the Toronto Center for Entrepreneurial Art & Design, a new organization offering intense preparation for students who aspire to top-tier design programs in higher education.

Pilot Projects created a ground-up curriculum in collaboration with TCEAD founder Sam Liu and his Canadian team. The program is based on an intensive combination of hands-on practice and theory. Students started every day at 8:30am at the Evergreen Brick Works, a spectacular example of "adaptive reuse" industrial architecture in the heart of Toronto. This early 20th-century brick factory sits along the Don River, surrounded by lush floodplain meadows.

Daily activities required students to conceptualize, articulate (through drawings and models), specify, physically construct, and then step back and evaluate their own and one another's finished work. This was done alternately as individuals and in small teams.

Students worked together to choose from their own designs for further development by their colleagues

Starting with 2D processes, students also explored graphic design and drawing, progressing towards a personal brand creation and t-shirt logo. This might have been easy if each student was their own boss, but we had them start the design process paired with a fellow student -- a real client they had to design for. Interviews were conducted to understand their client's history, character, style and aspirations. The assignment concluded with a multi-colored logo printed onto their respective shirt using a hand-cut stencil and special colored inks.


Week two focused on 3D design, and students began to learn how to integrate models and drawings into the process of design exploration and specification. The focus was understanding these artifacts as "communication tools" rather than as ends in themselves. Various scales were explored, from 1:1 scale maquettes of food packaging, to 1:50 scale models of "pop-up" retail shops using shipping containers as the base architecture.

"AM/PM" container concept for an urban cafe / bar with large sliding doors opening to patio area for seaonal use

"Cup Cake" - No brand-possition ambiguity here. This kitchen cafe faces the sidewalk and invites customers to indulge.

Our third week we entered the fourth dimension - 4D - exploring the world of "experience design" and integrating all aspects of graphics, branding, space and services. To accomplish this, students collaborated to create a picnic experience for 28 people, beginning with a site exploration across the ten-acre Evergreen Brick Works. Students pitched their site concepts to the class and the best site chosen. Likewise, a variety of brand and logo concepts were explored for the picnic, a vote was taken, and the winning design developed by different class members.

This process of individual work cross-pollinated with teamwork was central to each of the successive elements, incl. food concept, place settings, menu and invitation design, timing and schedule, hosting, budget management signage and wayfinding.

Site plan for picnic - sun and trees were key design factors.             Plan of picnic explores geometry for blankets, tables, capacity etc.

Lime-mint sparkling ice water in mason jars- every detail designed.    Custom table with inlaid menu and 'surprise' package for fruit tart.

Parents and students enjoying the results: Fine dining in the park with custom designed food, furniture, packaging and service

In the end, it was a wonderful picnic, replete with mixer games and delicious finger fare enjoyed by students, parents and teachers alike. And I finally got a little vacation after all.

Sketchbooks were a core part of the curriculum. All design projects began with sketchbook exploration

A year-round two level community garden facility for an New York City park. Grow your vegetables with a view.



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