Category Archives: Road Trip

A Summer of Design Thinking

This summer has made me fall in love with Design Thinking all over again. Taking a fifteen minute introduction to Design Thinking and making it an entire three hour piece in the workshop helped me gain a much deeper understanding of the process. Over the course of the internship, I tried different things. Some worked well and some didn’t. Here are the most important lessons I have learned:

Problem definition is hard, really hard

In the time-frame of the session, which is typically two to three hours, we start with a problem and end with a prototype. The sessions went without a hitch when we threw a very specific and simple challenge at the participants, like “Design a better chair”. Encouraged by the enthusiasm of a particular set of participants (thank you West Iron and Benzonia), I tried something different. I asked them to come up with a challenge; it could be anything that annoyed them in real life. And the first thing I received was a room full of blank stares. This is in no way the participants’ fault. Most people would draw a blank at something this open-ended.

I realized, as a designer, I had trained myself to observe and keep a mental note of design flaws in everyday objects; or, perhaps, I became a designer because I was already doing it. Either way, it took me a while to understand that not everyone is like me; that we humans have a tendency to get used to problems or come up with workarounds so that it no longer bothers us. And this was my first lesson. No matter how well we train people to solve problems, they cannot put that training to use until they have learned to see the problems that surround them. Acknowledging the existence of a problem and the urge to improve something must come before any problem solving technique. And this realization surprised me even more because it is not referenced in the design thinking literature. I realized that learning to observe is a necessary prerequisite for being able to conceptualize an improvement.

Seeing is believing

We had a lot of fun during our product pitches at the end of a Design Thinking workshop. Some hilarious, some thought provoking, some absolutely mind-blowing and all of them radically new and different in some way or the other. Most participants were surprised at the amount of creativity that comes out of them. If I were to simply tell them that they are all creative and that design thinking would work, I would not have had as much success in getting them to try it in real life. However, I believe there is more work to be done. Most participants, I feel, see design thinking as a fun activity that they can implement as a program in a library or incorporate it in the school curriculum. It has been hard for me to get them to apply the process in their own lives, as a technique to solve their own problems or as a change in mindset. Upon reflection, I find that Design Thinking had the most profound effect on me when I saw that I was changing someone’s life. A short workshop only skims the surface of design thinking. A true mindset change can happen only when we can empathize with the design’s intended beneficiary and see the difference we have made in their lives.

Gamifying the process: missing pieces

Our team came up with a fun, simple, and engaging activity to introduce participants to design challenges and certain aspects of design thinking: a game that … . We made several iterations over the summer, introducing the game in different ways and with different rules. We loved how the room buzzed with exciting ideas when we did the activity in groups. Words and pictures elicited different interpretations. And to be honest, the most fun bit was the wildcard design constraint that they were given halfway through the challenge. It spiced things up, even  if it sometimes annoyed the participants. But there had never been a team that did not rise up to the challenge. This proved to be a great warm up challenge, getting the creative juices flowing in a quick period of time. But we do realize that the game heavily focused on the brainstorming and the prototyping steps of Design Thinking. These steps are fun in real life, too, so they are easy to replicate in a game. But what about the more serious steps, like user research and making design choices? We see that the real challenge is incorporating the other stages of Design Thinking without making the game too long or boring. A solution to this would be a real game changer because it would help educators and librarians develop student/patron mental muscles over time in a safe and joyful setting.

In conclusion, I have had the most rewarding summer. Personally, I managed to step out of my corporate comfort zone and meet some amazing and very real people. Now, I have a design thinking problem of my own: make design thinking second nature to everyone.

Things Learned on the Road This Summer, Part I

Thanks to funding from IMLS, I spent much of the summer on the road, working with librarians, educators, and community members to envision and think about community-responsive making in rural and underserved communities. Here are some things I learned (or re-learned) from stepping outside the current maker narratives:

  • Balancing traditional maker activities (e.g., log furniture) with new technologies (e.g., CNC routing) remains a challenge, in part due to financial constraints.
  • Future Farmers of America and 4-H remain highly influential avenues to making and hands-on learning in communities.
  • One powerful, persuasive personality can mobilize many others.
  • 3-D printing, seen as a critical tool in many urban and suburban maker narratives, simply isn’t financially viable in many rural libraries, though they might be found in local high schools.
  • The maker movement in libraries is codifying around youth and STEM primarily, with a big emphasis on playing with pre-made items (e.g., Snap Circuits, LEGO, K’Nex).
  • Despite the current youth and making focus, we got a lot of questions this summer about making and senior citizens, something we’re really interested in, too!
  • Underwater remote operated vehicles showed up as an in-class or extracurricular activity in three of our sites. Robotics was even more popular (in part because Michigan’s governor has actively supported and incentivized the incubation of FIRST Robotics programs).
  • Incubator kitchens are specially licensed facilities to help nascent food businesses get started. That this is a state-licensed activity tells me there is more support for non-tech-based small businesses than we previously anticipated.
  • Multiple communities pointed to farmer’s markets as a hub for creative handmade products.

What did you learn this summer? I’ll be back next month with more learnings.


Cross-posted to the MakerBridge blog and the Active Learning blog

Sewing machine and inspiration board with prompt at the Zauel branch of the Saginaw Public Library.

Hello, Saginaw!


The one day workshop on Making as learning at the Butman Fish Library, Saginaw was made possible by a chance that Rhonda Butler, the head of the Wicke’s Branch at Saginaw, took while applying to host it. And we are so grateful she did. This was a high energy workshop from start to finish.

We introduced the participants to some high level definitions of making. Then we turned our focus to their community and prompted them to think about the big picture; what was their vision for a makerspace and what it would look like. After that, we shared some ideas on how to assess the work being done in makerspaces without crushing any of the open endedness or the creativity. This brought us to design challenges and design thinking.

With a short introduction to the process of Design Thinking, the group jumped into the challenge with gusto. It was fascinating to see them work under such time constraints(as this was a short workshop) and come up with refined and amazing ideas. The product pitches themselves were a class apart. Hilarious and thought-provoking at the same time, the pitches left us in splits and also wishing the products existed.

We then explored some hands on activities and tools that we had brought along. We had a great conversation about the experiences of the day and how to move forward, bringing this wonderful day to an end. Keeping the best till the end, a very special thanks to the staff of Saginaw Public Libraries for being such lovely hosts and making the workshop so lively.

We are happy to be at the work home of UMSI alum Rhonda Farrell-Butler today — Butman Fish Library, a branch of the Public Libraries of Saginaw!

Some resources that may be helpful:

Benzonia events featured in Traverse City Record-Eagle!

We were delighted when Amanda and Helen forwarded today’s story in the Traverse City Record-Eagle about the maker movement in the Traverse Bay area, specifically highlighting Benzonia’s efforts:

Benzonia Public Library Director Amanda McLaren said she first got involved with the maker movement through her husband, who likes to tinker, and her son, who loves science.

“What really draws me to the maker movement is the community aspect,” McLaren said. “It opens doors for those that are talented, creative, artistic and curious and brings together a community of like-minded people.”

And the community is growing on several regional fronts.

The Benzonia Public Library hosted free workshops and a MakerFest earlier this week, and the Fife Lake Makerspace is fundraising for a physical space …

The concept of “maker culture” is where hacker culture, DIY-ability and technology intersect. The national movement combines varied pursuits like traditional arts and crafts and engineering with an open-source philosophy and a playful, collaborative spirit …

“It encompasses everything,” McLaren said. “I feel like it comes from that desire to reconnect with basics and building something you can be proud of. I feel like we’ve lost that.”

Teresa Mills, of Fife Lake, said she first heard about makerspaces in 2012, when she got involved as a facilitator for the movement throughout Grand Traverse County.

“It’s like a gym, but it’s for the mind,” Mills said. “A maker is everything from baking cookies to installing to journalism — people need to quit getting caught up in the ‘makerspace’ label.”

Cities like Grand Rapids and Detroit have hosted these events, and a grant from the University of Michigan’s School of Information and the Institute of Museum and Library Services allowed the Benzonia Public library to host free workshops and a MakerFest earlier this week.

The events overlapped with the library’s summer-long science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) theme.

McLaren added that she was excited that the small town hosted a “big city” event.

“The real focus is on starting this with youth,” McLaren said. “This also offers continuing education credits for teachers.”

If you cannot access the story online, we have archived the story here.

Wonderful learning in Benzonia!

This was a much-awaited workshop for all of us. Over the three days, we covered different aspects of making. Starting, as always, with the big picture as it brings a focus on the community and allows each makerspace to be conceptualized differently. Since we were with a special group of individuals,(which was evident from the design challenge) we went out into the community and picked up a few real world problems to solve. The resulting ideas and pitches were amazing and showed a great passion for the community. We also had our hosts Amanda and Michelle share all the wonderful work they have been doing at the Library.

The visit to Grow Benzie was truly inspiring and we thank Josh for making it so memorable. With facilities like the incubator kitchen, greenhouses and sewing rooms, we see that the place has the potential to become a real catalyst for growth in this community. We look forward to hearing more!

Our time in Benzonia was heartwarming and we learned a lot from the participants. A big shout out to Sheryl  for joining us (once again) and adding to all the tools for exploration. And having been on the road all summer, we must thank Amanda and Jimmy for making us feel truly at home.

Resources :

Thank you, West Iron

We were joined by a fun and cozy group of teachers from the area for this three day workshop. It was interesting to see making from the perspective of educators and we learned a lot about the settings in which they work and the challenges they face. The first day opened a lot of insights and questions regarding the big picture. Next we explored the different tools and looked at how we can combine them into fun activities. The stop motion animation challenge helped us look at the tools through a different lens. Later that evening, we had the community come together for a high energy Makerfest. At the end of the evening, we heard a kid exclaim “I didn’t know the library was so cool!”. This definitely made our day. On the last day, we did a couple of design thinking challenges to tackle problems that they face everyday. And we wrapped workshop by revisiting the broader vision.

It was fun visiting the picturesque West Iron district and exploring the nature around. We thank Stephanie for being such a wonderful host and inviting us to the beautiful West Iron District Library.  

Materials we used in the workshop:


Mural made of shattered mirrored glass on display.

Thank you, Coopersville!


Thank you so much for a wonderful event. We explored many topics together, spent a lot of time actually getting our hands on the activities we might incorporate into our maker practice, and got to see some great sights together. Special thanks to the Coopersville High School for providing the meeting space for our event, Ryan Schoenborn for sharing his expertise and experience running an after-school STEM club, GVSU for sending some interesting tech and sharing their stories about maintaining a creative technology space inside a larger organization (and alongside many other responsibilities), and of course the Coopersville Area District Library for applying and inviting us to their area.

The time we spent at Coopersville, either in the workshop or the public event, we felt very connected and community-driven. People generally seemed to understand the connection that being a maker has to both the traditions of the area (seeing the woodworking area as a place to express that creative, purposeful energy, for example) and the needs of the community (which we felt in our conversations with the community at our very well attended MakerFest).

Here are some resources that you may find useful:

And some selected photos from our visit:

Continue reading Thank you, Coopersville!

Person holding decorated shrinkydink picture frame.

Making in Alpena: Shipwrecks, strawbees and everything in between

The workshop got off to a great start with attendees travelling from as far as Ypsilanti and Frankenmuth to join us. We discovered that Alpena houses NOAA’s Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center and we were joined by the Education Coordinator as well. The news of underwater robotics competitions and tours of shipwrecks made us realize we were in a very special place indeed.


On day one, we discussed the fundamental concept of making and the conversation on the community and its needs were particularly fascinating. From hosting underwater robotics competitions to artisanal quilts and tapestries, the community had a diverse group of individuals constituting it.


On the next day, we explored many different types of maker activities and tools. These included both high tech tools like arduinos and low tech activities like glass etching.The activities with strawbees was so soothing and fun that we had a room full of people silently engrossed in their creations. A special thanks to Nancy, the IT (and strawbee) specialist at the Alpena Library, for arranging this activity.  We also found the time to play a round of the design thinking game. What a fun, creative group of individuals! The two teams jumped in with gusto and came up with some amazing ideas, and their fun product pitches had us in splits. We had  a soldering workshop to create paperclip sculptures, an activity right in the center of technology and art.


On day three, we covered ways of assessing open ended maker activities and revisited the missions from day one.The impromptu walking tours, the glass bottom tours of shipwrecks, the Maritime Museum and the wonderful hospitality left us wanting to stay longer.  A big thanks to Jessica Luther at the Alpena County George N. Fletcher Public Library for inviting us and giving us this wonderful experience.

Day 1 Slides

Day 2 Slides

Day 3 Slides

Congratulations to Houghton Lake attendee Shelly Jenema!

Graphic with the quote: "It's not about giving them the solution. It's about giving them the chance to create the solution in the way that they chose ... Not everyone will have the same solution and that's OK." by Shelly Jenema

Shelly attended our Houghton Lake workshop and added so much excitement to our days! With a grant from the Missaukee Area Community Foundation, she’s launching a makerspace at her school, Northern Michigan Christian School.

The project was recently featured in the Cadillac News and features the quote above. You can access it via free registration or by opting to watch an ad prior to accessing the entire article.

Congratulations, Shelly!

Nottawa Township/Centreville Makers, Thank You!

Hello, Nottawa/Centreville Making as Learning attendees! Here are the slides, and some selected images from our Flickr feed for the event (found here).

I want to take a moment and thank some of the parties, on behalf of our team, that made this workshop possible. First and foremost I’d like to thank Carrie Brueck of the Nottawa Township Library for applying and inviting us to come to her area. I’d also like to thank Glen Oaks Community College for their flexible space for us to occupy over the course of our 3 days there. And finally, I’d like to thank our attendees for making this event so great by participating and sharing their insights!

This site

Day One Slides

Day Two Slides

Day Three Slides

Yarn creature!
Yarn creature!
Everyone hard at work having fun
Everyone hard at work having fun
Cookies cut with a 3d-printed cookie cutter!
Cookies cut with a 3d-printed cookie cutter!
Everyone loves playing with Legos!
Everyone loves playing with Legos!
Fashion Hacking with fringe and fabric paint
Fashion Hacking with fringe and fabric paint
Kamya wearing an amazing prototype!
Kamya wearing an amazing prototype!