Project Manager

Product Designer

Thomas Eriksson
2 Months

The Problem

How can we create artefacts that facilitate curiosity and increase learning at Kjeller Skole?

Opportunity

In 2012 Kjeller Skole, a Norwegian public school serving children aged 6-16, was appointed to be a "Trailblazer" school.

This promised funding and support for an increase in practically oriented instruction in the sciences, believed to increase motivation and learning performance in all subjects. As the only Trailblazer in the region, it was an important priority for the municipality to highlight this distinction.

To emphasize and visualize the schools new profile, they wanted artefacts that would increase awareness and provide enhanced learning, while simultaneously improving the schools environment.


Our Process

Analysis

We performed an in depth analysis of the school, uncovering valuable information that established a solid direction and set of priorities for the client.

We concluded that there is a potential challenge that the school be interpreted as a school focusing specifically on the sciences, and that these were prioritized over other subjects. However, the Trailblazer objective is to strengthen all subjects through an interdisciplinary teaching program.

According to the golden circle (Sinek, 2009) focusing on why they do what they do, rather than what they do will make the appeal more emotional and effective. The new curricula has become more practical (the product), which they hope will result in fostering curiosity in students (the cause).

Since the school wanted to be defined by more than just their Trailblazer distinction, our analysis established three values that summarized the schools strengths:

Inclusion

Wonder

Innovation

Brainstorming

We mapped out interesting elements, initially working without constraints. After compiling a preliminary mind map, we defined topics that were reappearing, creating new maps for categories like Movement & Time, Gravity & Volume and Optical Illusions.

Observations

To gain insight into how classes were conducted we observed a range of science classes. There we found that the pupils were inquisitive and curious with a need for visually supporting materials.

We interviewed teachers after class to get some thoughts on what the students could benefit from in terms of visual materials. The topic often returned to traditional academic concepts like the periodic table and mathematical formulas. This was an approach we wanted to avoid, as it diverts minimally from what the students are already exposed to in the classroom environment.

Instead we suggested visualizing the result or basis of formulas, like a square meter, which was more in line with our vision of engaging the pupils by trying to invite curiosity.

Student Exercises

To further include the students in the process, and explore them as a resource, we performed a “random association” creative exercise in the upper grades. Although it generated many sketches, very few ideas diverted from existing concepts that the students were already exposed to.

Even though the exercises were not very successful in terms of generating usable ideas and concepts, it did give us a solid understanding of the students' level of development. This allowed us to gauge that we were working on concepts that were suitably challenging for the most advanced students at the school.

Concept Development

We moved through countless iterations of concepts inspired by mood boards, student observations, teacher involvement and on site prototyping.

Having developed and narrowed in on a set of concepts, we evaluated how these would fit in with the intention of the project. Having uncovered three main values that the school wanted to promote, it became apparent that we could promote those values through the artefacts.

We decided to develop three artefacts that would symbolize each of the schools values, thereby creating and supporting an overarching brand for the school.

To reinforce the intention of each artefact we developed symbols that would accompany the artefacts. Starting with clear and typical symbols for each value, we ended up with a unified set of three minimalist symbols.

Inclusion

Wonder

Innovation

Discovery

One concept of particular interest was a triangular pattern intended for a wall. Discussions uncovered that the school envisioned it would allow students to measure and do calculations based on the shapes. However, we deemed it not financially viable to execute in a more resilient material than paint, which ultimately would not endure the wear and tear of a primary school.

To preserve the artefact, it would have to be in a location out of reach, removing the primary attraction. However, this made us aware of the importance of being able to interact with the artefacts. Adding an element of interaction created a direct link to learning.

To keep the element of interaction we challenged the concept and wanted to make it interactive even if it was out of reach. We came up with the idea of making a scaled, printable, version of the pattern that could be printed out and given to the students. In this way they could still effectively measure the pattern, and in addition calculate the actual size based on the scale factor.

Although we ultimately chose other concepts for our final proposal, the handout concept was an important discovery that led us to explore how we could create paper handouts for other concepts, increasing learning takeaway.

Client Presentations

We had three presentations for the client. The consistent presentation schedule ensured that we were continuously pursuing concepts that would attain client approval.

The presentations became milestones for us to move from a divergent perspective to convergent decision making. For each milestone we would develop more refined concepts with takeaways from the presentation.


The Solution

Throughout the process we focused on creating concepts that were directed at our primary users; curious, learning children aged 6-16, and our final proposal is a testament to our user centred process.

Compared to other installations of public art in educational institutions, our artefacts differ in the sense that it incorporates learning as a function while simultaneously beautifying the environment. Although the pedagogical aspect is not necessarily immediately recognizable, through interaction among students and with teachers these artefacts facilitate curiosity and learning.

Inclusive

To establish inclusivity as a pillar of the schools values, we wanted to create a landmark at the entrance to welcome students.

Two square tubes raised from a patch of grass symbolize two growing blades of grass. The top of each tube angle and create a partial outline of a cube (a square meter). The form is inspired by Sol LeWitt and his “Variation of Incomplete Cubes“ (1974). We were interested in representing incompletion for the students to resolve.

The blades are different, but through collaboration create the cube. Adding an area of grass creates a functional space for the students to sit, lay and consider the sculpture. The sculpture speaks of growth and single units that together create a whole, while teaching shape, volume and geometry.

Wonder

As a modernist building, large empty surfaces were abundant. For a common area that was frequently used for recreation, we wanted to create an artefact that could occupy students.

A collection of letters scatter along two walls, with a range of words hidden in every direction. Some words are raised to encourage interaction and the discovery of words.

We created a basic design system based on the existing architectural features. The blue letters were designed to compliment existing walls, which raised concern since the students use blue and red to separate vowels and consonants. In order to keep the design system and avoid a cluttered expression, we created a learning opportunity through incorporating handouts.

We collected words from students on every grade and included these in the final design. The design teaches language, grammar and vocabulary.

Innovation

Utilizing one of the largest walls in the school, we wanted to work with a simple expression to avoid creating a hectic and stressful environment. The wall spans a long and narrow hallway, where sections of the wall are seen from several classrooms on several floors. We wanted to work with abstraction and building an understanding based on experience.

Along the wall is an anamorphic painting of the word undring, which means wonder in Norwegian. From one perspective the word reads ung which means young, while from other perspectives letters are abstracted and distorted beyond recognition.

Experiencing the word head on, flattens the text, and in a sense compresses an otherwise large space to a flat two dimensional surface, teaching form, perspective and composition.

My Thoughts

The Artefact Project allowed us to make a big impact on Kjeller Skole. Our thorough process focusing on user centred design resulted in exciting new concepts for public art in an educational context. In addition, our analysis established core values and strengths. Linking artefacts to those values has allowed the school to promote and reinforce these values, giving opportunities for pride, recognition and unity.