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Design Path for Schools

Design methods for instruction and school development

Design path is a basic method for solving problems creatively, teaching students to use design methods, and developing schools together with students. This method is suited for both smaller projects and larger development projects.

Finland 100


HundrED has selected this innovation to

Finland 100






March 2017
Our goal was to develop a new kind of tool that will help school communities solve everyday problems and challenges together.

About the innovation

What is it all about?

Design methods refer to the way designers think creatively to solve problems. Design methods can be used to solve many kinds of challenges.

The new Finnish curriculum talks a lot about developing schools together, which means teachers and other personnel need to collaborate with students and their guardians. Design methods give you the tools to develop instruction and school learning environments together with students. You can apply the methods to accomplish something small and quick or large development projects that last the whole school year.

When students are involved in creative problem solving, they learn how to face problems and deal with them flexibly. These are skills they will need in their future careers. By understanding that anyone can fix problems, they learn how to make changes that make things work better.

Design Path For Schools is a tool that enables school communities to solve challenges together. The seven phase tool takes you through the entire design process. Examples of the challenges that may be solved with the tool are the following: keeping students within school bounds during recess, affecting how students use mobile phones, decreasing food waste, or even greater challenges in schools such as recognizing bullying, using flexible learning environments, planning school events, or having teachers work in teams.

The Design Path For Schools is a collaboration between the City of Helsinki and the Helsinki Design Week and has been used in Helsinki schools since 2016.

The steps give instructions for each of the seven phases of the Design Path. The steps also give you practical suggestions and examples of a hypothetical challenge that can be solved with the Design Path.

Impact & scalability

Impact & Scalability


Ideas originating from service design have been used in schools before, but this method puts students in the role of the designer.


Solve problems, see immediate results, and improve school spirit.


This method can be used to solve almost any problem, so it can be applied to different environments.


Implementation steps

The design process starts with defining the problem. What do we want to change? What doesn’t work in the current system?

The starting point doesn’t always need to be a problem, it could also be something that you just want to make better or more functional.

A challenge map will help students understand the problem and its context. You can use a notice board or poster for the challenge map.

Students can be instructed to define the challenge and create the challenge map in the following ways:

  • Draw or make a video of the problem

  • List the problems

  • Find out what kind of expertise is needed

  • Discuss who is affected by the problem

  • What led to the problem?

  • Who are the primary users – i.e. who is the solution designed for?

  • Define the size and difficulty of the challenge. How long will it take to solve?


One of the challenges in school could be untidiness in the school’s lounge. People leave rubbish on the floors, students forget their things on tables and chairs, there are scribbles on the furniture, and the space is always disorganized.

The goal is therefore to make the lounge tidy and inviting.

The challenge map could include the following things:

  • A photo of the lounge

  • A list of the problems: messy, dirty, cluttered, unwelcoming

  • Expertise required includes keeping the space clean, the effect of cleanliness on how welcoming a space is, informing users of the space in the correct manner, and getting them to behave differently

  • The issue concerns the whole school, but especially students who use the space

  • The problem evolved gradually after students were allowed to use the space freely

  • The primary users are school students

  • The challenge is medium and might require time depending on the solution alternatives

Once a challenge is defined, it is time to move on to more detailed analysis.

Observation helps define the design problem, interviews and photographing the problem can be used as part of this process. It is best to listen to the views of as many different people as possible to find out the full extent of the problem.

Students can be instructed to observe the problem in the following ways:

  • Photograph and film

  • Interview users and experts

  • Observe how the service and space is used

  • Find out more about it, e.g. on the internet

  • Get background information and find out how things are done elsewhere

  • Put yourself in the place of the user and experience the problem yourself

  • Follow and ‘shadow’ users

  • Collect the information for everyone to see


The following methods could be used to observe the messiness of the lounge:

  • Taking more detailed photos of the lounge, both the whole space and in minute detail

  • Students interview each other about using the space: Do you use the lounge? How much? With who? For what purpose? Do you find the lounge inviting? Why?

  • Interviewing the school cleaners and other experts about the effect of tidiness on learning and how welcoming a space is.

  • Searching the internet for information on how other school’s lounges look and looking for solutions for similar challenges.

  • Putting yourself in the position of the user by agreeing to have one group of students setting up a mess in the lounge and other groups of students coming in to test the space and how well it can be used for different purposes. Collect the testers’ observations and experiences.

  • Pairing students up to be detectives. Each pair is tasked with observing the use of the space and writing down what they notice.

All information gained from the observations are collected on a notice board or web platform. It is best to have teachers check the observations and notes before publishing, so that no students are identified by name and portrayed negatively.

During brainstorming students get to freely suggest solutions. All ideas are written down.

After brainstorming, evaluate the suggested solutions. Which of the ideas are implementable? How well do they answer the problems identified during the challenge phase?

After the evaluation, choose the solution that will be tested in practice. You can test several solutions.

In practice, students can be instructed to suggest solutions in the following ways:

  • Draw, copy, and hand out ideas

  • Draw a new type of service step-by-step as a comic strip

  • Look for pictures about the topic – how have others solved the problem?

  • Colors, materials, sounds – which ideas speak to your senses?

  • Have a vote on which solution should be used  – ask for outside feedback

  • Divide the problem into pieces and solve them one by one in groups

  • Prioritize and group ideas


The suggested solutions could include the following ideas:

  • Students take turns to watch over cleanliness

  • Punishments for getting caught for making a mess

  • A picture collage about beautiful, clean lounges

  • Rewards for students who keep the space tidy, especially when it is not their mess

  • Restricting the use of the lounge and giving classes turns to use it

  • Teachers guard the space

  • Security cameras

  • Taking a picture of the space every time you notice it to be tidy and hanging the picture on the wall with the name of the photographer

  • Sending a message to home asking parents to talk about the issue with their children

  • Having a lesson about tidying up and practicing it in class

  • Decorating and fixing the lounge to be more welcoming so that people want to keep it tidy

Only testing will tell you which ideas work best in practice.

Testing also gives you the opportunity to develop the ideas to be even better at solving the original problem.

In practice:

  • Collect experiences – how would the idea work?

  • Make a character model and collect feedback

  • Ask for feedback on the ideas and make the ideas better based on it.

  • Make a prototype – test it in real circumstances

  • Search the internet for similar ideas

  • Model and 3D-print the idea

  • Summarize how the idea will make the current situation better

  • Describe, sell, and market the best ideas


The ideas chosen for testing could be:

  • Taking a picture of the space every time you notice it to be tidy and hanging the picture on the wall with the name of the photographer

  • Decorating and fixing the lounge to be more welcoming so that people want to keep it tidy

Testing the ideas could be done by asking students to take pictures of the space with their phones for the next two weeks every time they see it tidy and collecting the pictures in a class folder. After a week, the pictures are shared with all students and observations about them would be published as announcements on the school radio, in assembly, or as a photo exhibition.

Decorating and fixing the lounge to be more welcoming presents an excellent opportunity for modelling: students could make cardboard models about how the lounge would be both more welcoming and easier to keep tidy.

If neither of the ideas work, try the other ideas or think of new ones.

Write a plan that describes how the idea will be implemented in practice.

Evaluate how much the changes will cost or what the change will actually require you to do.

Students can be given the following instructions (at this phase support from a teacher is important!):

  • Define how the idea is going to be implemented

  • Model, measure, and make drawings

  • Define the materials, structure and colors

  • Outline the scale, practices, and rules of conduct

  • Communicate to others how the plan works – create a service path

  • Evaluate how much the implementation will cost


If both ideas work, create a plan for implementing them. To make the lounge more welcoming, you could discuss the following things with the school staff:

  • Will you need money for decorating and furnishing the lounge? How much? Could it be done without money?

  • What will you need to make the lounge more welcoming?

  • Could you have students help decorate the lounge with projects made during arts, crafts, mathematics or science classes? Could you furnish the space with recycled objects?

  • Asking students for ideas to make the space more welcoming is a good idea, because their participation will make them feel more connected to the space, which will in turn affect their behaviour in the space and make students more likely to help keep it tidy.

  • The space could be made more personal with objects and pictures of things that display students’ skills, hobbies or interests.

The plan should also include rules for using the lounge. If having everyone keep the space tidy does not work, could you assign students to clean the lounge in turns? Will you try some of the other ideas you brainstormed?

Implement the things that you have written down in your plan. You can still change ideas or develop them further as required.

In practice:

  • Will you do it yourself or with someone else? With whom? How will you reach your goals?

  • Find a producer, sponsor or partner

  • Monitor the quality of implementation along the way

  • Draft a schedule and calculate the cost

  • Train people to understand the results of the change

Successful leadership during the implementation is part of design.


The whole school participates in making the lounge more welcoming in turns. Schedule a timetable for the implementation. Students should feel like they are part of the process from start to finish, so they will feel ownership for the space when it is finished.

Using the lounge as an actual learning environment or furnishing it to suit teaching lessons is work that should be done by teachers.

Once you have finished with implementation, it is time for everyone to evaluate together how the project succeeded.

Have you been able to solve the original problem? What kind of new solutions have you created? How does the situation before differ from the situation after? How well have the new practices been adopted? It is also important to analyze failures to help you act differently in the future and avoid failure.

In practice:

  • Compare the situation before and after

  • How did cooperation work – discuss!

  • Collect the created material and document it!

  • Measure achievements

  • Organize an exhibition and collect feedback during it

  • Publish your achievements and the design results as a magazine or webzine

  • Make a Youtube video


Once the lounge is more welcoming and the picture project has been up for a while, the whole school can gather to evaluate the results.

You can collect experiences from the new space by interviewing people or doing a survey. You could take before and after pictures of the space and compare the tidiness.

If the project succeeded and it will be continued, the school could publish a brochure about the project and it could be shared with parents.

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