How can I run my class more like a design studio?



I’ve heard people talking about how this design curriculum is intended to be run in the classroom as a design studio - does anyone have advice for how we can achieve this?


Are we sure that is what we want? Design studios follow economic imperatives and are not particularly interested in reflecting on process or attempting to make the design process more explicit and understood. Tacit knowledge rules, but I would argue that in an educational environment we are seeking to help students understand their processes, not simply use process to design.


Perhaps we should define what we mean by ‘design studio’.


This is a great point - the need for clarification. To my mind there are two different definitions here:

A design studio as a professional body (e.g. an Architects’ studio or a graphic design studio) that is concerned with meeting clients’ needs. I feel @Mike_McAuley that this is the definition that you are referring to?

A design studio as the concept of a place that calls creative design activity into being - @Andrew_Scott, perhaps this is the definition that you’re referring to?

With the original post I was trying to refer to the latter, but it’s a really good point that this needs some rigorous defining. My thinking is that a “classroom as design studio” differs from a regular classroom in a number of ways. Some that come to mind are:

  • Physical organisation of the space for informality, playfulness, small groups, etc
  • The role of the teacher as a facilitator for design activity- poser of questions, reflector of processes, guide for developing competence, etc
  • The setup of lessons as project-based, within the loose framework of the design process, and with skills learnt within this framework

What else fits here?

Once again, Wikipedia gives a helpful definition:

A design studio or drawing office is a workplace for designers and artisans engaged in conceiving, designing and developing new products or objects. Facilities in a design studio include clothes, furniture art equipment best suited for design work and extending to work benches, small machines, computer equipment, paint shops and large presentation boards and screens.

I don’t mind this as a guiding statement for an ideal type of space within which to teach this design curriculum. It is quite interesting - a cursory attempt at searching the literature finds no clear definition for what it means to use a “design studio” for high school learning. Most of the articles I found were about “robotics design studios” or similar STEM styled output-focussed spaces.

I agree with your point Mike that we want students to be understanding their processes.


To my mind, a design studio within a secondary school needs to be a functional multi-purpose space. It requires computer access for typing folios & reports, conducting research and computer modeling and CAM. It also requires adequate space and resources to sketch ideas and produce sketch models and prototypes. There needs to be room for students to work individually or in groups. Access to some tools and machinery, or items such as laser cutters, 3D printers, CNC routers, etc. The teacher needs to have good visibility of all areas.
Unfortunately most schools are not designed in such a way to allow that to happen as the workshops and classrooms are often positioned far apart and it is hard to find a useable multi-purpose space. That is certainly the case in my school.


I think the ideal professional design studio has access to a broad range of visualisation and making tools including rapid prototyping and hand modelling. Jony Ive has made reference such things in the industrial design studio at Apple.

In the education setting this may be hard to achieve, not least from a resourcing perspective but also from the point of view of the students’ skills and the order in which they acquire them.

At QUT our workshop facilities are great but in a different building. We schedule workshop access in parallel with design studios so that students can make use of 2D and 3D design exploration. CAD lab access is harder—our labs are heavily booked and it’s generally not possible to use them in parallel with studios.

As it happens we’re not troubled by this too much. Our students don’t start learning CAD until Semester 2 and it’s not until Second Year that they start to really master it. For us the danger of jumping into CAD before developing sketching and physical model making skills is that the students limited CAD ability ends up dictating design decisions which is the tailing wagging the dog.

My priorities for my First Year ID students is to first master the design process along with sketching and basic model making (and here we’re talking about make models as a form of 3D ‘sketching’ rather than ‘presentation models’). Our intention is to build their problem solving and visualisation skills, concentrating on iterative design development.

As we introduce CAD we insist that maintain the development of their sketching and physical model making. We find if a student uses CAD too early they invest way too much time on detailed virtual modelling before an idea has gone through many iterations. This premature investment in an unproven idea makes it difficult to walk away from when the flaws reveal themselves.

Of course the same thing can happen in any medium. Creating a very polished physical model or prototype gobbles up a lot of time. If you haven’t developed the design sufficiently before this you end up with a well made model of a bad design.

From this perspective you might say learning where and when you invest your time in simulating* and testing design ideas. Lots of rough iterations initially building to more detailed simulations as design concepts prove their worth.

(* By ‘simulation’ I mean any representation of a design idea that permits some evaluation of its effectiveness so this includes the crudest sketches, the most detailed CAD models and everything in between.)

I must acknowledge that this is from my industrial design perspective. I’m sure there are many different ways to approach this and many other valid ways of creating a design studio education. I’m very interested to learn more about other approaches.


This is a nice article on running design critiques. Although it addresses the commercial and university contexts I think there’s wider value in it.


This is the approach we used to develop students understanding of the design process and develop their design capabilities in Vic. Very limited CAD resources, but National School of Design course heads advised they were looking for creative abilities in sketching and drawing. Helped to be teaching visual communication/graphic design to the same students. Design & Tech in glass, with associated materials was also very engaging for girls :slight_smile:


We have been given permission to rip out one of our rooms to redesign it into a design studio. However the boss wants it to be ‘forward thinking’.
I’m looking for design studios within companies that are done well, which I may be able to visit (within Australia). Does anyone have any recommendations?


What do you think that your boss means by forward thinking?

That could be read in many different ways, e.g., “I want the latest technologies in there to show them off to people” or “I want it to feel like a completely different space so that as soon as you walk into it you know that it’s a place where creative activity happens”

Some quick thoughts:

  1. I feel like any of the universities in Australia that offer Design courses (e.g. QUT, Griffith, UQ, etc) have good examples of design studios that they would be happy to show you around any time.
  2. I feel like the main feature of a studio is being an open and configurable space, especially if you’re going to have a range of different design disciplines going on in the space.


Thank you Nick.

In my mind, I take it as the latter - a place where creativity happens - I envisage spaces like they would have at Apple or Google.
I think the boss feels the same.
My HOD wants to look at industry as opposed to what the education sector is doing, but having heard about many schools and universities that have exceptional design facilities, I’d be keen to have a look at those. I haven’t actually been into QUT yet which I am extremely eager to do.

We do have some ideas with regards to configurable spaces etc I was just hoping there might be design studios in industry that we could draw inspiration from.
Also if anyone has advice on what has or hasn’t worked for them, that would be great.


You’re welcome to pop in and have a look at the QUT design studios. I wouldn’t call them exceptional in any way but perhaps that’s not a bad thing if it reduces the price of entry.

Some thoughts:

You don’t need anything fancy or expensive to conduct design classes beyond a space that is reasonably flexible. Some days you need space for people to work on their own, and then often in small clusters working together. Regularly you want students to present their work to each other as part of discussions or more formal presentations. You want people to be making things to test out ideas too.

For us this takes the form of:

  • Wheeled tables and chairs that can easily be moved around to meet the needs of the task at hand
  • Ample space to pin up sketches. Some of our studios have wheeled pin boards, others just large pin board walls.
  • A workshop with a large variety of equipment for model making.
  • Some computer labs.
  • Some storage space for sketches and models. (Managing this is always tiresome.)

Our ideal design spaces would collocate sketching, presentation, computers and fabrication facilities into integrated design spaces. We don’t have the facilities to do this currently though. Noise and health and safety make it challenging to have the workshop in the design studio. That said, you don’t need fancy industrial equipment for a lot of making and this kind of thing could be located within design studio spaces:

  • cardboard and foamcore work with craft knives and hot glue guns
  • styrene foam work with hot-wires, sandpaper, rasps, etc.
  • sewing machines? (I don’t have experience of this. Our Fashion students are currently located on another campus.)

With very limited facilities you can do a huge amount of ‘low-fi’ prototyping.

If you or other teachers would like to visit just contact me and I’ll arrange a short, informal tour if possible.


We did a staff tour of QUT, Griffith and Formzoo (an Industrial Design studio) last year, completed the Design Teachers Studio in February, and took our Year 10’s to QUT for a studio tour recently. Each time we visit QUT I find a few more good ideas for us to incorporate into our own studio designs and teaching programs.

It is well worth taking Andrew up on his generous offer!


This is a great offer Andrew, thank you.
My HOD is also keen to come along but with deadlines looming he worries there isn’t time this year. We would be eager to organise something in the new year if possible.

Thanks again for the offer, I have been desperate for an excuse to visit QUT for some time now.


I can understand that it’s a tricky time for you but it’s a pretty great time to visit QUT. If you can drop by next week I think I could sneak you in to see a few of the final year ID presentations on Monday morning or the First Year ID presentations on Tuesday afternoon. If your principal can’t make it he could always come another time.

I’m not trying to put you on the spot, just looking at the opportunities.

Let me also put in a plug for our ‘Design Festival’ graduate exhibition which is Tuesday 13 November. There are guided tours for school groups and we’d be happy to run a tour specifically for design teachers but I don’t think anyone has taken us up on this yet… so probably we won’t. More info can be found in this related thread:


That is a wonderful offer Andrew and one I would love to take you up on. I will speak with the boss, but it means a flight down to Brisbane which might not be an option at such short notice. The Design exhibition is a great option though and definitely something that might be more feasible.


Sorry, Kirsty, I didn’t notice your location. I quite understand that short notice isn’t possible.

We can sort something out for later. Same for any other teachers who would like to visit.


I’m planning on attending the end of year show. First years on Tuesday afternoon - is that a show or open house?


That’s terrific, Stuart. It will mostly be exhibition but I think the tours that will run over the days following will show facilities. That said, all of the design studios, with the exception of Fashion, are located at Gardens Point campus. I’ll try to find out if the tours include the latter but I’m pretty sure they won’t be accessible during the opening night.


Hi Andrew,
I will be visiting for the design exhibition (arriving around 9am Tuesday) and will not fly back until around 3pm on the Wednesday. Do you know if a tour will run on the Wednesday? Or where I could find that information.
Very much looking forward to the exhibition.