Five Perspectives for the five spaces for design in Education

Design is about action, and we are exploring some ways to make our framework more actionable. Check out five embodied representations for understanding our core framework, now The Five Spaces for Design in Education.


We’re making some changes around here. Say goodbye to “The Five Discourses of Design in Education” and hello to “The five spaces for design in Education.” The change is a result of much discussion and exploration. Here’s the scoop.

Why it was discourses

The initial development of our “five discourses” framework was spurred by work Punya, Ben, and Melissa were doing with community design labs in local school districts. We struggled to describe the focus of our design work, and the five discourses gave us new language to talk about what we were doing.

We saw (and still see) design as dialogic. It is about conversations:

  • Between the designer and the design
  • Between stakeholders

Furthermore, we envisioned each area for design as a certain way of viewing and acting on the world. This brought up Jim Gee’s big-D Discourses, which he describes as “ways of combining, integrating language, actions, interactions, ways of thinking, believing, valuing, and using various symbols, tools and objects to enact a particular sort of socially recognizable identity.”1

Why we changed it

As we have continued to use and share our framework, we’ve found power in its actionability: by recognizing that artifacts, processes, experiences, systems, and cultures are designed, we open up possibilities for change. If they are designed, they can also be re-designed. Rather than emphasize existing design discourses, we want to highlight how we, as educators, can take action through design i.e. the “spaces” that design opens up for us to act. Thus, we are changing discourses to “spaces,” which we believe suggests something more open for interaction. We are also replacing “of” with “for” in order to invite non-(professional)designers into our design spaces. In the same way ‘a space for play’ can invite varied levels of players to DO play in the play-space, so too should ‘a space for design’ invites varied levels of designers to DO design in the design space

We still see design as dialogic and we still emphasize the need to talk about design. We will continue to discuss the knowledge, practices, judgment, elements, and tools that are unique to design disciplines–they help us identify how to become better designers in the design spaces. However, we are replacing “discourses of” with “spaces for” in order to highlight the action possibilities each space offers for designing change in education.

What do we mean by space?

Funny you should ask! At our last meeting, we explored how each of us has been conceptualizing what we mean by “Space.” We used gestures to support thinking and communication. In other words, we used gestures FOR exploring spaces for design.2 Check out the results.

Limits (Amanda) Spaces represent a limit that we set ourselves in or that we see ourselves in.

Fuzzy Space (Punya): Although we talk about the spaces as if they are distinct, they actually run into one another.

Space>Space>Space (Luis): Spaces are nested within and connected to other spaces; where one more or less ends, another more or less begins.
An animation of a uneven landscape

Landscapes (Steven): Just as different kinds of maps (e.g. political, traffic, topographic, etc.) highlight different features of a geographic area, each of the five spaces draws out different characteristics of a designed object. 

Molding and Rotating a Sphere (Melissa): The spaces are something we have created to help us see design and education in a certain way. We can turn them around and mix them up to change our perspective and action possibilities.

In summary, the five spaces are (limited) areas for focusing design work and re-imagining problems and solutions. Each space provides a type of (fuzzy) frame that allows us to see educational contexts from different perspectives. And new perspectives support new ways of acting and being.

1 Gee, J. P. (2011). Introduction to discourse analysis: Theory and method (3rd ed.). London and New York: Routledge. p. 201

2 We were inspired by Liz Lerman’s Atlas for Creative Tools. Learn more here!

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