Design-Thinking and Library Makerspaces

Schools aim to prepare students to function and thrive within the modern world. It would seem counter intuitive then, that there is an increased push toward prescriptive testing and data collection. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find opportunities within a cluttered curriculum to develop student creativity, innovative thinking and problem-solving skills. School libraries maybe the last bastion for the provision of spaces where students can immerse themselves in their interests and be encouraged to innovate and create.

Library Makerspaces lend themselves to


Library Makerspaces lend themselves to design-thinking. They foster informal collaborative learning through hands on creation where students can engage in a cycle of continuous review and questioning, revise assumptions and improve their understanding and results. Design-thinking uses scientific, rational processes but also considers the needs of the users (Dam & Siang, 2019). It is in essence; a process used to analyse a problem and identify strategies and solutions to solve it.  It goes further in that it attempts to overcome the set paradigms that we each bring to a situation, enabling us to look at it from different angles, or ‘outside the box’ thinking. This process is uniquely suited to the needs of today’s youth as 21st century learners, enabling creative and innovative thinking skills.


Infographic created by Alexandra Rummenie

Graphical outline of the ‘5 phases of Design thinking’ established by the Hasso-Plattner Institute of Design – Stanford (Dam & Siang, 2019).

‘Students need a Maker Mindset’

John Spencer

A Maker mindset is essential if today’s students are to thrive in the constantly changing landscape of the 21st century.  Library Makerspaces can provide a place where 21st century learners can develop the necessary skills and aptitudes in creativity, innovation, transmedia navigation, visual literacy and computational thinking (Bowler, 2014).  They can support the development of the cognitive and digital skills necessary to effectively utilise and adjust to the rapidly changing landscape of digital tools and technology. As John Spencer (2019), commented, “Kids aren’t digital natives they are consumer natives” and we can help them move from consumers to produces.  Linda Liukas (2018), further clarifies this idea when she said, “If we don’t give them the tools to build with computers, we are raising only consumers rather then creators.”

Marnie Webb, CEO of Caravan Studios, suggests that Teacher-Librarians should employ design-thinking as a critical step before implementing makerspaces in order to determine the needs and interests of the students.  Asking questions and collecting information on student needs, wants and interests will ensure a well-designed makerspace (Jacobson, 2016). Once we have gone through our own design-thinking process, developed our prototypes and tested products to establish a makerspace that suites the requirements of our school community. We still need to provide a structure that provides support for students, it can’t just be a ‘free for all’. This is where design-thinking can enable students to gain the maximum benefit from the makerspace.

Design-thinking can guide the creative process.

In order to lend direction to student interests when they engage with makerspaces, we can use design-thinking to guide their creative process. “The LAUNCH Cycle” by John Spencer and AJ Juliani, has taken design thinking and adapted it for use by students and teachers from K – 12. After researching this, I felt it would be well suited to facilitate Library Makerspaces, helping me make them more productive for the students. The LAUNCH Cycle framework builds on the ‘5 phases of design-thinking’ through the addition of an inquiry phase and a launch phase where students publish/present to an authentic audience.

Image reproduced with permission from John Spencer (LAUNCH Cycle: Design-thinking framework).

This framework allows students to establish an awareness of a problem or process and a sense of empathy toward an intended audience where they can begin to ask questions. This engages the students’ interest and natural curiosity and is the starting point for the inquiry process. They research, building on and deepening their knowledge and understanding. Navigate and analyse their ideas based on new understandings, working together to brainstorm, collaborate, connect, challenge assumptions, create innovative solutions and conceptualise prototypes. Throughout this process students develop skills in project management where they can develop a product idea, a sense of who their audience is, negotiate roles, allocate tasks and work to define their solution.

They are empowered to create, test, evaluate and revisit to perfect their products.

They are empowered to create, test, evaluate and revisit to perfect their products. Their creations can be anything from a physical to a digital product, art to engineering. We can give students the confidence to fail and the realisation that mistakes are opportunities to learn and improve, an important life skill that will free their creative spirits. An important part of this process is that we offer students the opportunity to present to an authentic audience. Today there is a wealth of physical and digital forums where students can share their products and learning journeys.  The idea that others can share in and learn from what students have produced gives their work real world relevance where their work is meaningful, has value and purpose.

Let their imaginations run wild.

Using a design-thinking framework in the context of Library Makerspaces, I can give students a sense of ownership and agency, empowering them with the confidence to take risks and create. Students and teachers can come together as collaborative and connected learners to solve problems, share knowledge and develop creative solutions. I am excited to see where design-thinking will take our Library Makerspaces and the effect it will have on student engagement. My hope is that it will inspire my students with the confidence to let their imaginations run wild, becoming innovators and creators and perhaps teach us a thing or two along the way.

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