What Are The Five Spaces for Design in Education?


What and how do we design in education?

We work with local K-12 schools through university-school partnerships. While trying to collaborate on open-ended design projects, we were struggling to communicate our goals. What collaborators were designing in each context was different; what we brought to the table was design. For example, one school was trying to increase student engagement while another was struggling with a statewide teacher shortage. We needed a way to talk about design across scales of problems–and something that could help us decide where to focus. Our framework–which at the time we called The Five Discourses of Design in Education–was born.


The 5 Discourses model


Discourse, you say?

When we say “discourse,” we mean more than just a way of talking. Each discourse describes a space where design happens. We borrow the definition of discourse from Jim Gee:

“Discourses are composed of distinctive ways of speaking/listening and often, too, writing/reading coupled with distinctive ways of acting, interacting, valuing, feeling, dressing, thinking, believing with other people and with various objects, tools, and technologies.”James Gee1

A rose by any other name?

We liked using the term “discourse” because it emphasized the dialogic nature of design, but we’ve found the term “Space” more actionable in our work with educators. As of December 2019, we began calling our model the Five Spaces For Design in Education. You can read more about the change here.

Design Spaces

We find these elements help us understand the spaces of design:

KnowledgeInternalWhat designers know
JudgementInternalHow designers evaluate quality
ElementsExternalWhat designs are made of
ToolsExternalWhat designers use to design
PracticesTransactionalWhat designers do: The tricks of the trade


THE Five?

The five spaces that make up our model come from our experiences and research. Of course, they are much more porous than they appear here–they blend together and sometimes it’s difficult to tell them apart. Which is kind of the point. But we’ve found talking about design in this way leads to new perspectives and helps us connect our work to the rest of the designed world.Here they are:


ArtifactsStable objects that can be perceived through the sensesCurricular materials, tools, software, manipulatives, videos
ProcessesA procedure or directions that can be used outside of the context within it was created to achieve a goalLesson plans, curricula, schedules
ExperiencesA piece of time with associated sights, sounds, feelings, and thoughtsActivities, celebrations (graduation), learning communities
SystemsAn organized and purposeful structure of interrelated and interdependent elementsRegistration, certification system, degree program, evaluation systems
CultureA pattern of shared basic assumptions that allows groups to perceive and interpret the world in similar ways, develop and communicate meaning, and transmit values to new group membersPerceptions of technology, schools, or education broadly; classroom culture; school culture



Because all the discourses describe spaces of design–and revolve around the work of designers–they share certain ways of acting and being. We call these mindsets. Each mindset describes a:

  • Way of thinking, mental attitude, disposition, belief, feeling, value
  • An interpretation of a situation and tendency to respond in a certain way2

For example, here are common mindsets of designers:
icons representing mindsets


1Gee, J. P. (2011). Introduction to discourse analysis: Theory and method (3rd ed.). London and New York: Routledge, p. 152
2Based on: Hamat, B., Eisenbart, B., Badke-Schaub, P., & Schoormans, J. (2019). The influence of a designers’ mind-set on their design process and design outcomes. International Journal of Technology and Design Education. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10798-019-09522-8Rauth, I., Köppen, E., Jobst, B., & Meinel, C. (2010). Design thinking: an educational model towards creative confidence. DS 66-2: Proceedings of the 1st International Conference on Design Creativity (ICDC 2010). designsociety.org.