Recipe: Make crisis your curriculum

If you’re a design educator who is/has been a practitioner, how many times did you have a perfect submission deadline? One you completed well in advance with no last minute panics? No last minute plotter ink running out? Hard drive packing up with that 1.1GB PS file?

Never? Feel free to post in the comments then…

For everyone else, why not give your students the joy of this experience in a safe setting and set them challenges that make use of your (and their) situations. Design education studios are safe places to simulate this stuff, though – so go easy, OK?

This is an extract from Questions from a design lecturer with a few other ideas thrown in too.

Serve to:
Students with some design process experience and a project to be getting on with…

Prep: 30 mins
Activity: To suit project. Recommend 3-5 days
Closeout: 20mins per student

Low – in fact, make cost a condition!

Easy – Moderate


  • A design brief or project, either one you are already working on (with an interim or short deadline) or a short self-contained project – something to run 3-5 days.
  • Method for asynchronous group communication
  • Method for group sharing and commenting or Virtual Design Studio
  • Assessment and feedback method (asynchronous preferred)



  1. Select a particular aspect of you and your students’ current context to be your design team crisis. This could be: need to replace face to face group working; no regular access to internet; no access to workshops; no access to digital tools and software.
  2. Use your crisis and a suitable brief to initiate the activity itself. Here’s an example (using multiple crises):

All the IT and equipment in your office just went on fire. Literally burst into flames. But, it was a really, really specific fire, so all the paper and pens and stuff is OK – just the computers and kit that got melted.

There remains one office mobile phone with rubbish access to the internet left, though. Weird…

Anyway, you have a big deadline for Friday for a major client. You still have to produce a response to [INSERT BRIEF]. Go!

PS – the client called to let us know that their helicopter is broken so they can’t come into the office. They want the proposal presented online to them using [INSERT [WEIRD] MEDIUM HERE].

(OK, this might have too many conditions so be selective (or not) to suit.


  1. Monitor your students’ progress and act as a guide and mentor. Let them know about your own shocking failures to meet deadlines (mine is the time we lost an entire BIM database 2 days before a major competition. A. Whole. *****g. Database.)
  2. If they are working towards a group submission, make sure that they are actually doing this (and apply Natural Justice Rules of assessment – assess learning, not ‘groupwork’ or outcomes!)
  3. If students are working individually, make sure they don’t isolate themselves. Keep in regular contact and use simple check-ins to make sure everyone is OK (not working, but OK). Suggest synchronous or social media link-ups for students to use and remind everyone that so called ‘passive engagement’ (e.g. reading updates) is still engagement.
  4. Remind students that this is to see how far they can get and give them Pro tips on Panic Presentation:
    1. Don’t try to do everything – better to have one brilliant image than 6 rubbish ones
    2. Avoid critical points of failure (e.g. a single large .psd file on a dodgy hard drive).
    3. Backup, backup, backup.
    4. Have a mini plan. Prioritise: 1) what the brief absolutely requires, 2) what you think you need; 3) ‘nice to haves’ if you have time
    5. (any others anyone … ? )

Feedback and Assessment

  1. Have a close out session – synchronous if you possibly can. Let students wind down and moan about the activity – teach them how to moan about impossible client demands and ridiculous deadlines. There is an art as well as skill to this!
  2. Even better, do what you would in real life – share a drink or just chill (online) whilst you bask in the warmth of a deadline met and share links to urban hip hop…
  3. For assessment, return to point 2. above about Natural Justice Assessment and always focus on the learning that has taken place and that still needs to happen. Try to feed forward on what to do next time.
  4. Take your own feedback medicine and get your students to rate the activity and critique it.

Notes and tips:
As an added challenge, change the medium of presentation 2 hours before the deadline… (think this doesn’t happen in real life?)

Keep and eye on stress levels – make this an appropriate level of difficulty for your students (and you!).

Published by Derek Jones

Derek Jones is a Senior Lecturer in Design at The Open University (UK), part of the OU Design Group, and the Convenor of the DRS Pedagogy SIG. His main research interests are: the pedagogy of design and creativity, embodied cognition in physical and virtual environments, and theories of design knowledge.

4 thoughts on “Recipe: Make crisis your curriculum

    1. Glad you like it. I do like the recipe format – it’s accessible and (from our experience) you can usually encourage more voice to contribute to (and read) a recipe book … 🙂


  1. I like the recipe aspect too. The one thing I would change is to tackle a REAL challenge… Right now the world is in the middle of one, so how might your students solve a local problem that is related?

    Liked by 1 person

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